Local, state and federal leaders gathered Wednesday afternoon to celebrate East Liberty’s revitalization as a transit hub with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new East Liberty Transit Center.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto remembered the parking lots, indoor tennis facility, car wash and defunct taxi stand that once existed where 360 units of market-rate housing now stand and ground-floor retail space soon will open.
He lamented changes that occurred in East Liberty in the 1960s, when city officials tried to make the neighborhood more car-friendly.
“Big circular racetracks built around a neighborhood, big wide roads so that cars could get people to work or get people to their homes,” Peduto said. “But what ended up happening in that experiment was that people moved. They moved to Monroeville and to Penn Hills and … further out into the Electric Valley.”
Councilman Dan Gilman said the new transit center, which features a pedestrian bridge and parking facilities for both cars and bikes, makes the area more accessible for people using a variety of forms of transportation.
“You couldn’t think of anything in an urban core that was less pedestrian friendly, less cyclist friendly and less creating an urban neighborhood connection than what existed here before this development,” he said.
Officials said it’s one of the most complicated projects the city has ever undertaken, with more than 20 funding sources and dozens of community partners. A $15 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration was a “game changer” in getting the project done, according to Mark Minnerly of The Mosites Company, the real estate development company responsible for much of the development in East Liberty over the past decade.
Robert Rubenstein, acting director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the transit oriented development will create 150 jobs, in addition to 300 short-term construction jobs. Job creation along the seven-block corridor of Penn and Centre avenues will total 7,000 once the project is fully completed Rubenstein said.
Critics argue gentrification in East Liberty is pushing out long-time residents. This summer, hundreds of low- and moderate-income residents of the nearby Penn Plaza Apartments received eviction notices after the owners of the buildings decided to redevelop.
“That’s why it’s so important that we have an affordable housing investment fund so that the wealth that’s going to be created on both sides of the road, both sides of the tracks – Shadyside and East Liberty – will be invested so that those people that went through the hard times will be there to be a part of the good times, too,” Peduto said.
The first residents are expected to move into The Mosites Company’s initial residential development, Eastside Bond, next month.
At this time, none of the units are set aside for low-income residents, but URA officials say tax increments generated by continued development will help fund affordable housing in the near future.