City Walkabout: View of the Hill improves again with new YMCA
Aaron Gibson, executive director of the new Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District, has a view of the neighborhood's progress.
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When the Thelma Lovette YMCA opens for business on Centre Avenue Wednesday, the Hill District will have a state-of-the-art fitness facility. But if that's all it was, executive director Aaron Gibson would not have needed to make a point of showing me the view from the rooftop terrace.
And if the view were the point, it would have been merely beautiful, not something to think about.
"Look at the transformation all around us," he said, sweeping the air with his arm. Straight ahead was the Downtown skyline. To the right, across the street, were the Legacy Apartments and rows of new homes beyond it.
That view used to be of abandoned houses, he said.
To the left from the YMCA, Addison Terrace is going to be upgraded by the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, in part with low-income housing tax credits, for $160 million. Construction on phase I is expected sometime in 2013.
One block away, a new Carnegie Library branch was dedicated in 2008.
Several blocks toward Downtown, hills of dirt and silent equipment represent the site of a future Shop 'n Save, which could open by the end of this year.
The Hill that attracted immigrants like filings to a magnet, and which packed them so tightly that footsteps in one house resounded in the next one, was a place of running sewers, many languages and a lack of city services. Within that Hill was the vibrant, celebrated Hill.
I came to Pittsburgh almost 23 years ago and pretty quickly started getting to know the Hill District. It was hollowed out, dejected and heartbreaking by then. It never would have dawned on me that one day you would be able to check out a book, go for a swim and buy fresh produce within a few blocks of the Zone 2 police station.
"Everyone is seeing a positive outlook for the future," Mr. Gibson said. "I am hoping we will be one of the pillars that would attract new development and new businesses along this corridor. But we're only going to be successful if we have community support."
The Y raises money so it can subsidize members whose incomes are low, with rates as affordable as $15 a month for a household.
It has strength and conditioning equipment with movable seats so people in wheelchairs can use them. It has a roomful of spinning stationary bikes and a pool with a window spanning one length of it.
One day recently, Mr. Gibson said, three churches brought members of their congregations in buses for a tour.
"Our community is definitely on the move," said Carl Redwood, executive director of the Hill District Consensus Group. He cited new housing on Dinwiddie and north of Centre Avenue. "A lot of new residents -- students from the Pitt side and from the Duquesne [University] side. We have joggers and bicycles now.
"We want to encourage mixed-income development. There's probably not a better place to be in terms of an ideal location between Downtown and Oakland."
The negative side remains open-air drug dealing on Wylie and Centre avenues "in the shadow of the police station," Mr. Redwood said. "The YMCA is a great addition, but if the police don't do a better job, the Y won't succeed."
Cheryl Hall-Russell, president and CEO of the Hill House Association, said the Hill's promise is one of the things that attracted her to the area from Indianapolis seven months ago.
"I saw the opportunities to fill in Centre Avenue and to have retail and health and wellness options. I wanted to be at the heart of making those things happen," she said. "It's cool to look at the master plan that the people of the community did and to see that things in the plan are coming to fruition."
First Published April 17, 2012 11:05 am