Funds for local Pittsburgh-area projects on the way

Allegheny County will distribute $3 million in community development grants

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Allegheny County is looking for a few sure bets to make with grant money it's won from casino taxes.

For the third year, the county is seeking applications for the Gaming Economic Development Fund, which distributes up to $500,000 per grant for local projects. Fueled by all the pulled levers and flipped cards over at the Rivers Casino, the fund has distributed $6 million since 2011, with another $3 million expected this year.

"We have a ton of people that usually apply for these projects," said Dennis Davin, director of Allegheny County's Department of Economic Development. "Everybody is looking for money."

This year is no different, with 25 applications already waiting in Mr. Davin's inbox. Most deal with infrastructure improvements, he said, and include the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the Regional Industrial Development Corporation and other authorities and municipalities.

The county had solicited ideas last fall but postponed handing out money after a light turnout. Now, they've opened the gates again, with applications due by Wednesday.

Previously, the casino cash went straight to the development of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and a proposed adjoining hotel, a deal struck by former Gov. Ed Rendell. But with the hotel on indefinite hold, that changed in 2011.

Grants that year helped to fund a half-dozen projects across the county, including engineering work at the former Civic Arena and the start of the Bakery Square 2 development in Shadyside.

Mr. Davin says he is looking to fund big ideas, rather than chug through the long list of potholes and pedestrian crosswalks every municipality wants help with.

"Everyone has deferred maintenance," he said. "We're trying to gear these grants towards larger economic development projects."

In Homestead, officials think they have an idea that could hit the jackpot.

Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall are filing a joint proposal to repave Hazel Way, a pothole-ridden brick alleyway that runs for eight blocks behind the three towns' main business districts.

They'll keep the brick, but a straighter grade beside the buildings' back doors will make the now-vacant storefronts more marketable to new owners, Homestead borough manager Ian McMeans said.

"We've had multiple developers that are looking to do things on that side of Eighth Avenue that have said the alley presents a big barrier to entry," he said. "Right now, if you drive through in a car, you're probably going to bottom out."

Their application also includes new stormwater sluices leading to a 14-acre borough lot, which Mr. McMeans said would become a "bioswale," both a repository for rainwater and a park for water flora. The project has the support of county Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square, who says the proposal hits plenty of positive points at once.

It'll cost $2.5 million total, but as Mr. McMeans and Mr. Davin both know, every little bit counts.

"This is a project that's been talked about for a long time," Mr. McMeans said. "But this is the first time we've had a source of funding to go after for it."

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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