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$150M East Liberty project expected to help revitalize East End

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, 10:51 p.m.
U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) cuts the ribbon at the at the opening of the $150 million East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge, and more.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) cuts the ribbon at the at the opening of the $150 million East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge, and more.
Natalie DeiCas, owner of Everyday's A Sundae Cafe, catered the opening of the East Liberty Transit Center, which is around the corner from her business. 'I'm excited. Just the change of East Liberty, just to be a part of it,' DeiCas said of the new transit center. 'It's bringing life to East Liberty. Now that there's housing in East Liberty that will make the difference.'
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Natalie DeiCas, owner of Everyday's A Sundae Cafe, catered the opening of the East Liberty Transit Center, which is around the corner from her business. 'I'm excited. Just the change of East Liberty, just to be a part of it,' DeiCas said of the new transit center. 'It's bringing life to East Liberty. Now that there's housing in East Liberty that will make the difference.'
Zaire Walker, 14, of Penn Hills waits for his bus at the East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Walker takes the bus to and from school at Barack Obama Academy. Now that the center is completed, his says his commute time is cut in half, and he won't have to walk the two to three miles like he used to do.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Zaire Walker, 14, of Penn Hills waits for his bus at the East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Walker takes the bus to and from school at Barack Obama Academy. Now that the center is completed, his says his commute time is cut in half, and he won't have to walk the two to three miles like he used to do.
A bus pulls up along the busway as politicians and officials speak at the opening of the $150 million East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge and more.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
A bus pulls up along the busway as politicians and officials speak at the opening of the $150 million East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge and more.
A bus moves along the new $150 million East Liberty Transit Center busway on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge, and more.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
A bus moves along the new $150 million East Liberty Transit Center busway on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge, and more.
Executive Director of the East Liberty Development Corporation Maelene Myers speaks at the opening of the $150 million East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge, and more.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Executive Director of the East Liberty Development Corporation Maelene Myers speaks at the opening of the $150 million East Liberty Transit Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The project, which pulled funding from nearly 20 different sources, includes a reconstructed transit station, mixed commercial space, housing, parking, a pedestrian bridge, and more.
Workers look out from the construction along the East Liberty Transit Center as officials gather for the opening of the center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The construction includes 43,000 square feet of mixed commercial space, 360 units of housing, and a shared use parking facility.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Workers look out from the construction along the East Liberty Transit Center as officials gather for the opening of the center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. The construction includes 43,000 square feet of mixed commercial space, 360 units of housing, and a shared use parking facility.

Some call a just-completed $150 million transit-oriented development in East Liberty a “linchpin” for revitalization of Pittsburgh's poorest East End neighborhoods.

Natalie DeiCas just hopes it will help her sell some eggs.

“That will add a lot of breakfast business,” said DeiCas, owner of Everyday's a Sundae Cafe, who picked East Liberty for her breakfast and lunch spot because of the growth. “I always wanted to open my own business. I just needed the right location.”

About 100 people, including residents and local, state and federal officials, gathered Wednesday to dedicate the transit center in Pittsburgh's fastest-growing neighborhood.

Officials said the Port Authority of Allegheny County transit station on the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway provides a critical transportation link to Downtown, reconnects East Liberty with its wealthier neighbor — Shadyside — and will spread development into neighborhoods such as Larimer and Homewood that have been poverty stricken for generations.

“Look around you,” said Robert Rubinstein, acting director of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. “What you see represents $750 million of investment. It's generating millions upon millions of dollars of tax revenue, and it's helping to drive Pittsburgh's economic resurgence. The linchpin of everything you see around you is the transit center.”

Some give the development a different review.

Alethea Sims, president of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for low-income families, said the development is pushing poor people who rely on bus service farther away.

“For years, they told us look at the big picture,” she said. “I'm looking at the big picture and seeing more and more people who should really benefit from this kind of thing get cropped out of it.”

East Liberty, a crime- and blight-plagued community for decades, has had economic growth in recent years.

It includes new Whole Foods and Target stores and Bakery Square and Bakery Square 2.0, which houses a Google headquarters and residential and retail space. As Rubinstein spoke at the dedication, cranes were building a housing complex and commercial developments nearby.

The $60 million center is considered part of a Transit Revitalization Investment District, the state's first, which benefited from a $15 million Federal Highway Administration grant.

It includes a 554-space shared-use parking garage and a street connection, pedestrian bridge, 120-space bike garage, lighting, street improvements, landscaping and a plaza.

Its companion piece is a $90 million mixed commercial and retail development being built by Mosites Construction Co. that includes 360 units of market-rate housing and ground-floor retail space along the busway. Residents are scheduled to start moving in within a month.

Rubinstein said funding for the center and Mosites development came from about 20 sources, including local foundations, government grants and tax credits. He said about $26 million came from public sources.

Mayor Bill Peduto said the center will help development and generate funding for affordable housing through a tax abatement plan. A percentage of taxes generated by construction in East Liberty and Shadyside will go into a fund to build housing that's affordable for low-wage earners.

“The disinvestment that's happened in East Liberty and Homewood and Larimer has driven families out of those neighborhoods for 50 years,” Peduto said. “What we're seeing now is an investment that's coming back, and we want (those families) to be a part of it, as well.”

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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