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Location, location, location – the Hill District is in the center of it all. The connection to commerce through its major thoroughfares: Centre Avenue, Herron, Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard host the major arteries for commerce in Southwestern Pennsylvania. As the crossroad and connection to three of Pennsylvania’s largest business districts, Downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland and Pittsburgh’s East End, the Hill District offers businesses and consumers a great location – convenient transportation, free parking and a pedestrian-friendly environment. Situated next to the Golden Triangle, and adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon, Point Park University, the Strip District and a thriving technical campus along the Monongahela River, the Hill District is poised to take advantage of what lies on the next frontier.
The Hill District, originally “farm number three,” was owned by William Penn's grandson and changed hands a number of times before being subdivided and sold to developers in the late 1840s. Originally settled by “well-to-do” Pittsburghers, the Hill District eventually became a popular first stop for families coming from Europe to work in the steel mills. Jewish, Italian, Syrian, Greek, and Polish settlers became a part of the neighborhood. African Americans began arriving from the South between 1880 and 1890.
By the early 1900s, the Hill District was a vibrant, politically active community, rich in diversity and culture. However, the physical infrastructure of the neighborhood had begun to deteriorate and some of early Hill residents moved on to other parts of the city. Although still diverse, the Hill was becoming increasing African American.
Crossroads of the World.
By the 1920s - 50s, the Hill District was established as the place to stop between Harlem and Chicago. The neighborhood was home to the Pittsburgh Courier, one of America’s most prominent newspapers. A nationally recognized Jazz circuit, the Hill was home to legendary Jazz giants such Lena Horne and Billy Eckstein. The Hill’s Negro League baseball team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, hosted two Hall of Fame players: Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. The Hill was the place to be.
No Social Loss.
Not everyone appreciated the Hill’s importance, and in a decision that would alter the progress of the Hill for decades, George E. Evans, a member of city council, wrote that “approximately 90 percent of the buildings in the area [lower Hill] are sub-standard, and have long outlived their usefulness, and so there would be no social loss if these were all destroyed”…and destroyed, they were.
In September 1955, the federal government approved the lower Hill redevelopment plan, slating ninety-five acres of homes and businesses for clearing. This Redevelopment Plan displaced more than 8,000 residents and was implemented by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) of Pittsburgh. Simultaneously, federally funded public housing was introduced to the neighborhood in massive numbers. The Hill District became home to more public housing than any neighborhood in the City.
The construction of the Civic Arena (1961), an engineering wonder, met with limited success and despite its notoriety, never lived up to the high expectations. The loss of residents, homes and businesses was a huge blow to the Hill District community and accelerated a downward spiral, which was fueled by the riots following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. The rioting lasted an entire week and produced 505 fires, $620,000 in property damage, 1 death and 926 arrests.
Steel collapse. Disinvestment.
The next two decades brought the collapse of the steel industry and civic unrest which combined to speed the decline of the Hill District’s business artery and housing stock. The neighborhood experienced rampant deterioration of buildings, increased crime and random demolition leaving vacant lots. It was not until the late 80’s when the Hill District received much-needed public investment.
In the late 1980s, Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) acquired the land surrounding the Civic Arena site, and began working with the Hill CDC to initiate a revitalization effort in the community. The result was the mixed-income Crawford Square housing development which has been widely hailed a success, and which has catalyzed further development in the Hill District. Crawford Square was constructed in three phases: Phase I in 1993, Phase II in 1995, and Phase III in 2000. It received funding from federal, state and local sources including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), local banks, foundations, and the URA. The URA selected mixed-income real-estate developer McCormack Baron Salazar to lead the development and partnered with the Hill CDC.
In 1996, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (HACP) was awarded a $26.6 million grant to redevelop the 460-unit HOPE VI complex called Bedford Dwellings. Working with the Hill CDC, the Bedford Resident Council and the City of Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and HACP selected McCormack Baron Salazar, the developer of Crawford Square, to redevelop the Bedford site.
This development aimed to remove blight and to replace the dilapidated apartments with units designed as townhouses that blended in with the existing architecture of the surrounding neighborhood. Based on input from the residents’ desire to not be relocated more than once, the final redevelopment plan was implemented in phases.
Also in the late 90s came the redevelopment of the former Allequippa Terrace - a 1940s-era public housing complex. The first phase was completed in 2003 with 639 townhouses, about 70 percent of them low-income housing; a sub-phase was completed in 2010 which included 86 housing units.
The $90 million second phase will result in nearly 450 townhomes and apartments -- the majority market-rate -- office, retail and recreational spaces.
These Hope VI housing developments: Crawford Square, Bedford Hill and Oak Hill, have brought more economic diversity to the neighborhood. However, displacement of existing residents has been a major concern. The Greater Hill District Master plan outlines anti-displacement strategies to assure that current residents are able to enjoy the redevelopment of their neighborhood.
Moving Forward with a Plan.
In 2011, the neighborhood collectively completed the Greater Hill District Master plan. Now, the Hill CDC and community partners are working to implement that Plan.
The Plan, created by the active residents and stakeholders of the Hill, outlines development of new housing, retail, business, recreation and green space, renovation of existing space and key initiatives that support the community and its residents.
To this end the Centre Avenue Business Corridor is currently under development by private property owners, institutions and public agencies. In August of 2012, the Urban Redevelopment Authority issued a request for proposals for vacant sites they own along Centre Ave.
The Lower Hill District, formerly home to the Civic Arena, is one of the largest, most highly sought after development sites in the country. This site is of key importance to the neighborhood as it holds both economic opportunity, and is also of social and historical importance to the residents of the area. Key stakeholders, including the Hill CDC, are working to assure that the site is redeveloped in a manner that strengthens the broader neighborhood and creates much needed economic parity for residents and business owners.
In addition to the large scale commercial and mixed use redevelopment of the Centre Avenue Corridor and Lower Hill District site; more housing is underway. The neighborhood will see well over 650 new units over then next five years. Sites include but are not limited to Addison Terrace, middle Hill District and new housing in the Upper Hill District.
With the combination of cultural, commercial and residential revitalization, the Hill District offers one of the best opportunities for residents, entrepreneurs, investors, developers and pubic agencies alike. There are few opportunities to realize a greater return on investment than you will find within the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh PA!
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Hill District Master Plan
The master plan for the Greater Hill District defines the vision for future growth and regeneration of the neighborhood. The plan expresses the community’s aspirations for an improved quality of life and defines goals for new investment and development. It informs prospective investors and developers about the community’s priorities for new residential, commercial, cultural and civic development in the Hill and directs them to new community supported development opportunities that exist throughout the Hill. The master plan provides the community with a framework to direct public, private and institutional resources in supporting new projects in the Hill.
Hill District Neighborhoods
The Hill District is comprised of:
- Crawford Square
- Bedford Dwellings
- Terrace Village
- Upper Hill
- Lower Hill (former 28 acre Civic Arena Site)