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Crazy Mocha joins North Side revitalization effort

| Sunday, July 5, 2009

The lights are on and work is under way in a long-vacant building at Federal Street and North Avenue in the North Side.

Contractors removed a layer of bricks to reveal window arches at 2 E. North Ave., which will become a Crazy Mocha coffee shop this fall.

"It's going to be a long process," said Ken Zeff, owner of the Shadyside-based chain of two dozen cafes. "It needs to be gutted, and we'll basically start from scratch."

Federal and North is the nexus of more than a decade of city efforts to redevelop the once-bustling Central North Side.

North Avenue is home to both Allegheny General Hospital and the Garden Theatre, a porn cinema from 1972 until February 2007, when the city won a 10-year eminent domain battle. Proposals for several city-owned parcels around the theater are being developed.

Up the hill on Federal Street, a $6 million Carnegie Library branch is scheduled to open Aug. 29, and the second construction phase of Federal North townhomes is under way.

Although a cafe in the nearby Mexican War Streets closed in April, Crazy Mocha is located in a spot with far greater visibility and foot traffic, said Kilolo Luckett, executive director of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council.

"This will draw from the hospital, residents of Allegheny Commons, construction workers, and the library," Luckett said. "It's transformative. Having a coffee shop is huge."

Developer Bill Barron, who partnered with Zeff to build the Crazy Mocha in Lawrenceville about four years ago, bought the one-story structure from the city in May for $16,000, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Development costs are estimated at $142,500.

In October 2006 Hall of Fame Steelers running back Franco Harris proposed putting a Mediterranean-style restaurant on the 1,610-square-foot lot. The purchase price for the building then would have been $40,000.

Randy Strothman, a member of the East Allegheny Community Council, said the Federal/North development and a new tenant in the former Sassy Marie's restaurant are generating positive momentum in the neighborhood.

Sassy Marie's on Foreland Avenue closed in August after a year and a half. Formerly the James Street Restaurant and Legends On James Street, a woman at the shuttered restaurant Wednesday said this tenant hopes to open around August. A sign reading "Serendipity: Hip American Cuisine" hangs in a window. The owner did not return a message seeking comment.

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