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Hill and Beans

Hill community group hopes for development -- of a certain kind

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Coffeehouses would be good for the Hill District, "even a Starbucks," says Andrea Wright-Banks, executive director of the Hill District Community Development Corporation. A grocery store would be even better, though & just not Whole Foods.

"I don't know if the city can stand two Whole Foods," she jokes.

Whole Foods, the organic specialty market in East Liberty, was aided by a loan from the Local Initiative Support Corporation, a national non-profit that helps neighborhoods rebuild. Wright-Banks is hoping the Hill CDC can link up with the local branch of LISC to assist with Hill plans.

The loan to Whole Foods, along with a loan for The Quiet Storm tea and coffee bar on Penn Avenue in Garfield, were part of LISC's strategy of concentrating funds towards one particular part of town -- in this case the East End. The grocery store is credited with providing much-needed employment and Quiet Storm offers alternative artistic and musical flair.

If these are the types of projects the Hill can expect from its potential investors then it's all right with Wright-Banks. After achieving some relative success lending in the East End, the Southwestern Pennsylvania office of LISC has designated the Hill District as the next likely candidate for their growth fund prospects. Skip Schwab, the lone local LISC staffer, cautions that they are still "exploring" the Hill as their next community growth fund target; no partnership deals have been struck yet. Schwab already works with 14 CDCs throughout the region.

Over the past couple of years, Schwab's office raised $1.2 million locally and an additional $4 million from the national LISC. Half went to Whole Foods (which got a $2 million loan plus $375,000 in additional funds) and the Quiet Storm, which got a $125,000 loan, via Friendship Development Associates to acquire the so-called "nuisance" bar where the Storm now sits.

If the Hill CDC earns access to LISC assistance they will use those funds to develop a two-block stretch commonly referred to as the "old New Granada block." The New Granada theater is the poster-child for structures in the Hill that once shimmered but now are withered. Besides reviving the theater, the group proposes mixed retail, commercial and housing units in that block -- including a grocery store. As for cafes, Wright-Banks says it's important the Hill have these "upscale" kind of establishments but with their own twist.

"We will build off our past history as an arts and cultural center for this region of the country," says Wright-Banks, "so people will come here because they want to hear some of the best jazz and blues artists."

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