By SUSAN JONES
In the past few weeks, Pitt has made moves to solidify its presence in South Oakland and at the same time try to improve the neighborhood.
The University announced plans earlier this week to build new non-student housing and bring in a grocery store at the former site of the Quality Inn at 3401 Boulevard of the Allies — a property Pitt has owned for several years and leased to the hotel, which closed last year.
This joins an announcement in June that Pitt will buy property at 3401 to 3421 Bates St. and at 392 Coltart Ave. after current owner Walnut Capital demolishes the 12 townhouses on the site. Walnut Capital’s demolition plan was approved by Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission this week.
No plans have been announced for what Pitt will do with the Bates Street property, but it is separated from the Quality Inn site by just a small, city-owned green space bounded by the Boulevard, Coltart and Zulema Street. Both properties sit at the entrance to Oakland from the Parkway East. In approving the deal for the Bates properties, the Board of Trustees Property and Facilities committee said: “The property sits at an important and highly visible juncture for the University and acquisition will enhance a key campus gateway.”
The Boulevard of the Allies development “creates an exciting new corridor into Oakland,” Beth McGrew, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor of planning, design and real estate, said in this week’s news release.
Former Senate Council Vice President David Salcido, a South Oakland resident and research assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, is “enthusiastic about any plans that have Pitt actively facilitating livability for residents of Oakland. If you treat a neighborhood like a place where people live, people will want to build their lives there and their lives will be improved.
“It’s undeniable that Pitt influences the neighborhoods immediately around campus. In my neighborhood, South Oakland, where I have chosen to live for more than 12 years, the influence is staggering. My hope is the exercise of this influence will be positive for long-term residents of all income levels, increasing affordability and livability.”
He also gave credit to Pitt’s Community Engagement team for its work in the neighborhood. “They show up and they listen.” Salcido said. He’s interested to see how the new project meshes with the city’s Oakland Neighborhood Plan, for which he’s on the steering committee.
Quality Inn site
The idea to build housing open to Pitt faculty and staff, as well as non-affiliated Oakland residents, and to bring in a grocery store to South Oakland grew out of conversations the University had with the community during the Institutional Master Plan process.
“In nearly every conversation the University of Pittsburgh has had with Oakland residents about Pitt’s presence in the neighborhood, the same two items — a grocery store and more resident housing — came up as priorities,” Lina Dostilio, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for community engagement, said in the news release. “It was obvious there was a need, and we are excited to partner with our community to help realize these long-desired amenities.”
The residential units will offer Pitt faculty and staff new walk-to-work options. The other Pitt-owned housing units available to faculty and staff are College Garden Apartments at Walnut and Elwood streets in Shadyside and Hyacinth Place on Ophelia Street in South Oakland.
"The addition of walk-to-work housing and a grocery store at this critical intersection is a win for the entire Oakland community,” Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said in the news release. “I appreciate the University's partnership in bringing a needed grocery store back to the community and making an investment in workforce housing."
Pittsburgh-based neighborhood developer Walnut Capital was selected by Pitt after a competitive search process to redevelop the site. The company also will handle recruiting a grocery store, a University spokesman said. Walnut Capital will work with Pittsburgh City Planning on the project’s zoning and design and will continue to engage the community prior to submitting a final design for review. Once the design is approved, the University and its partners will announce a development timeline.
“The site is a critical connection between central Oakland, South Oakland and Oakcliffe,” said Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the area, “and our neighbors have wanted non-student housing and a grocery store — along with removing the blighted townhouses on Bates — for a long time. Pitt is getting it done, and it’s great news for Oakland.”
“This project is truly catalytic … and is the product of an authentic and ongoing partnership among the University of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and our neighbors,” McGrew said.
In addition, Pitt has agreed to property at 233-237 Atwood St. from the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC), which will consolidate all its programming at 294 Semple St.
As part of the deal, the University has committed to promoting homeownership and creating opportunities for staff and faculty to live in Oakland neighborhoods, such as the Quality Inn site development.
Pitt also agreed to transfer a University-owned house to OPDC for inclusion in the Oakland Community Land Trust, which guarantees the property will remain owner-occupied in perpetuity; to dedicate a meeting space within a Pitt-property in central Oakland that community groups can use, free of charge; and to provide retail space in Sennott Square to OPDC rent-free for 10 years.
With the proceeds of the sale, OPDC will establish an endowed fund to support resident needs and community development priorities, such as providing affordable, equitable, inclusive homeownership opportunities and strengthening local community organizing capacity.
“Oakland residents have been advocating for many years for a community-serving grocery store,” said OPDC Board President Jake Oresick. “Pitt’s commitment to building the grocery store and supporting homeownership will help to stabilize the neighborhood, and the new endowment ensures OPDC will serve the neighborhood for decades to come.”
Bates Street demolition
Jon Kamin, a lawyer representing Walnut Capital, told the Planning Commission that the company will demolish the 12 Bates and Coltart street properties, fill in holes as needed to stabilize the site, and “reseed that and turn it into green space, until such time as we go ahead and look at this piece of the puzzle of a larger strategic plan for this portion of Oakland.”
After the properties are demolished, Walnut Capital plans to transfer the property to Pitt, with the University’s commitment to reimburse Walnut’s expenses. The purchase price for the 18,517 square feet of property on 12 parcels will be $5.6 million plus approximately $399,125 in reimbursable costs. No specific plans were announced for the site.
The townhouses, which were built around 1915, all have been condemned and are boarded up. Kamin said there were 141 tax liens against the property, which have all now been paid off. Billboards on the site also will be torn down.
“This site has been a eyesore and a something that has been on the list of action items for Oakland for a very long time,” Kamin said. “And we are happy that we were able to go ahead and to start the process of repurposing it.”
The Planning Commission approved the demolition plan. No timeline was announced on when that work will start.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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