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Bloomfield civic group tries again to improve 'Little Italy'

Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
David Aiello of Bloomfield and his sister Michelle Edwardo, a Bloomfield native living in Florida, sweep trash along Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield during a clean-up on Saturday August 17, 2013 in preparation of the annual Little Italy Days. Aiello's wife is a board member of the Bloomfield Development Corp.

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Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 9:40 p.m.
 

A Bloomfield civic group that nearly fizzled last year because of funding problems and infighting has reorganized and plans initiatives to improve Pittsburgh's “Little Italy.”

Bloomfield resident Joey Vallarian, the new board chairman, said Bloomfield Development Corp. retained an interim executive director and is raising money for community projects. The first was a litter and flower-bed cleanup on Saturday in the business district along Liberty Avenue, to prepare for Little Italy Days, which runs Thursday through Sunday.

“We've got a great neighborhood,” said Vallarian, a media and community relations manager for Duquesne Light Co. “Let's just make it better. I really honestly believe that with this group we have right now it's going to happen.”

That wasn't the case this time last year, when former Executive Director Karla Owens resigned after the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority cut funding. Owens could not be reached for comment.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, a Highland Park Democrat on the URA board, said the main reason for the cut was the organization's ineffectiveness. Personality clashes and arguments among members doomed the organization, he said. It failed in its main mission to improve the business district, and the street deteriorated, he said.

“We finally stopped funding them, and they kind of folded within their own lack of resources and leadership,” Ferlo said. “I'm hopeful about the new group's efforts. I hope (business owners and residents) become supportive and get past personality clashes.”

Interim Executive Director David Feeham, 68, of Bloomfield said the organization projects a 2014 budget of $150,000 to $200,000, depending on the success of fundraising. It has received $38,800 in grants from the city and state this year and about $52,000 in funding or commitments from foundations.

The organization plans a competition for Liberty Avenue merchants at Christmas that encourages businesses to decorate storefronts with holiday lights. It intends to expand its Saturday farmers market next year to include offerings from restaurants and entertainment.

“We're getting real support here,” Feeham said. “Even some of our skeptics have come around. We're seeing good interest every day.”

Rick Swartz, executive director of Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., said the new group has a long way to go before it can affect the neighborhood.

Bloomfield Development Corp. focuses on growth and development of Liberty Avenue. Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. focuses on the same goals on Penn Avenue in Garfield. A third group, Bloomfield Citizens Council, represents interests and needs of residents of Bloomfield and sponsors annual cultural and social events.

“They hope they can become a truly effective player in the Bloomfield development picture,” Swartz said. “I think there's a lot more that has to happen for me to tell you that the Bloomfield Development Corp. is on an upward trajectory.”

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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