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Development is revitalizing Hill District neighborhood

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:10 a.m.
Marimba Milliones, executive director of the Hill Community Development Corporation, stands along Centre Avenue in the Hill District on Friday, January 18, 2013. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Marimba Milliones is executive director of the Hill Community Development Corporation. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Development is bringing changes that promise to help the Hill District become a thriving neighborhood again, say community leaders and city officials.

About $93 million worth of construction is under way, and developers plan more than $30 million in other work this year.

The investments could transform the Hill, which for years has suffered unintended side effects of 20th century urban renewal. The goal is to make it a diverse neighborhood again, where families and commerce can thrive, said Marimba Milliones, executive director of Hill Community Development Corp.

“I think the Hill District will be a destination,” said Milliones, 37, a lifelong resident of the Hill, a center of black culture in Pittsburgh until the 1960s. “We'll see home ownership. We'll see vacant parcels filled in with market-rate housing with affordable rates.

“It will be that place you go to that you can't find anywhere else. You'll go for the music, food and the unique business opportunities that exist.”

Most of the work under way in the Hill is residential construction: the $180 million federally funded redevelopment of the former Addison Terrace public housing complex, and several smaller projects. Rounding that out is a long-awaited grocery store, a Shop 'n Save on Centre Avenue, costing $11.5 million and scheduled to open by mid-summer.

Residents say they're happy to see improvement after decades of decay since the wrecking ball razed homes and businesses to make way for the now-demolished Civic Arena.

“Time brings on a change, and I think we're ready for a change,” said Effie Williams, 72. “I think that's the greatest thing that can happen, when you see a community being built up.”

KBK Enterprises of Columbus, Ohio, started demolition late last year on Addison and will begin replacing former crime-ridden walk-ups with 400 mixed-income housing units. The first phase of development centered around Elmore Square will cost $72.5 million.

Downtown-based Trek Development Group is rebuilding the former Miller Elementary School on Miller Street to become 26 housing units, and building townhouses on surrounding blocks. The cost: $7.6 million.

Trek President William J. Gatti Jr. said the company hopes to build apartments and single-family homes between Centre and Fifth avenues in coming months, depending on funding. That project would cost about $9 million, he said.

“It's a neighborhood that we feel is exceptionally well located for upward mobility, in terms of property value and repurposing of old buildings,” Gatti said. “I think it has the potential to become a vital urban center serving a wide range of incomes and ethnicities.”

Plans are advancing for housing and shops on Centre Avenue near the Legacy Apartments and in the New Grenada Theater, according to Robert Rubinstein, acting executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He said the opening of a YMCA and Carnegie Library on Centre and Trek's residential development on Dinwiddlie Street have changed the Hill.

City officials believe development on the 28-acre Civic Arena site and renovation of the former Connelly Trade School into a green innovation center will further help the neighborhood.

“It's a wonderful time to be in the Hill,” said City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who lives there.

Cheryl Hall-Russell, executive director of Hill House Association, said her organization applied to the state to operate a charter school that would focus on helping high school dropouts earn diplomas. It would move its senior center to another building on Wylie Avenue in order to house the school.

“I'm glad they're finally doing something,” said Gerald Parker Sr., 60, a lifelong Hill resident.

“My grandkids are going to the new YMCA. I was up there seeing the supermarket that's being built, finally. It's looking like 2013 is going to be a good year.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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