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Housing rehabs, commercial district improvements top list of goals
Conflict of Interest Note: The author has a conflict of interest. He is a member of the McKees Point Development Group. See previous coverage of this issue and the note at the end of this story.
The developers and financial backers behind a six-year, $2.7 million project to remove blight in the city’s Downtown business district said this week they’re excited about the possibilities.
Members of McKees Point Development Group held a public hearing Wednesday at the Public Safety Building to outline the city’s goals for the first year of the Neighborhood Assistance Program, or NAP.
The program is being funded through tax credits and investments by Duquesne Light, First Commonwealth Bank, Noble Energy and UPMC Health System.
“McKeesport has a tremendous opportunity to move forward,” said Dennis Troy, president of DTI Development, which is talking to the city about partnering on several redevelopment projects.
The former executive director of Lawrenceville United, Troy worked on the early planning for the Waterfront in Munhall, Homestead and West Homestead. More recently, DTI was a partner in the redevelopment of the former Heinz factory and Armstrong Cork factory in Pittsburgh, and on several projects in the Strip District.
There is potential in McKeesport’s Downtown, but it will take time, Troy said.
“We‘ve done a lot of work in the Strip District and Lawrenceville,” he said. “When we started doing work in those places pre-2000, there were a lot of dilapidated buildings and boarded-up storefronts. Now Lawrenceville is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the country.”
Also in attendance Wednesday were representatives of First Commonwealth Bank, Duquesne Light and the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
“We’re really excited about this (NAP) and supportive of it,” said Ali Doyle, deputy director for DCED’s Southwest Region.
The plan presented by the city on Wednesday includes three main goals:
• Improving existing single-family homes in Christy Park, Grandview and other neighborhoods
• Demolishing abandoned buildings Downtown and preparing the land for new development, and
• Remediating the former Penn-McKee Hotel and attracting a developer to that building, and the area around the McKees Point Marina and Palisades.
“We have a lot of big plans here in the city, and this project is the shot in the arm we needed,” McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, located in Homewood, is leading the effort to rehabilitate owner-occupied homes in McKeesport.
Steve Hellner-Burris, executive director of RTP, said the non-profit agency wants to do rehabilitation projects for at least 10 homes this year and 20 homes per year in 2021 through 2025.
So far, 14 homeowners who want to participate in the program have been identified, he said, and work on the first four homes is expected to begin in March.
In 2019, RTP was awarded $150,000 for housing rehabs in McKeesport from the state’s Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund, along with $225,000 in tax credits. The group also is applying to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for an additional $750,000.
“We’re excited about being here on the ground floor, where we can really help map out a strategy,” Hellner-Burris said.
RTP is starting in Christy Park because the neighborhood “is a nice, succinct area that has a lot of long-term homeowners,” he said, and the houses are not so large that construction projects will be difficult to do.
The next focus area will be the Grandview Avenue and Library District neighborhoods, Hellner-Burris said, but “we are not rejecting anyone because they do not live in those areas.”
The group has opened an office on the third floor of McKeesport City Hall, he said.
The development committee is chaired by Michelle Matuch, retired executive director of the McKeesport Hospital Foundation. The vice chair is Mark O’Hern, president of UPMC McKeesport and UPMC East hospitals.
Other board members include Angelina Christina of McKeesport Housing Authority; Shaun Kennedy of Barrier Protection; James Miller of ESS Nextier Insurance Group; McKeesport Community Development Director A.J. Tedesco; Tube City Community Media founder Jason Togyer; and Jennifer R. Vertullo, assistant to the mayor.
The next public hearings are scheduled for May 20, Aug. 19 and Nov. 18 in city council chambers.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The author is a member of the McKees Point Development Group, mentioned in this story. No one associated with the city or the group reviewed this article prior to publication and neither the city nor any employee has any editorial control over Tube City Almanac. This article was written entirely from comments made at the hearing, which was open to the public and advertised in the Mon Valley Independent.
Originally published February 28, 2020.