For East Liberty, 1999 was bootstrap time. Seeking to reverse the loss of over one million square feet of commercial space and four decades of decline and blight, the community devised a plan for jobs, housing, and retail around the historic shopping district. PPND provided steadfast operating support for East Liberty Development, Inc. (ELDI) as it mapped a strategy.
With the plan in place, ELDI seized a unique opportunity. A corporate developer, Mosites Company, proposed bringing organic grocer Whole Foods to Centre Avenue. Backed by PPND and other partners, ELDI took a calculated risk to invest in the project. A forlorn industrial stretch of Centre Avenue boomed, prompting a second development with other national retailers such as Borders and Walgreens. National retailers inspired local entrepreneurs, and a handful of restaurants and small shops opened their doors in adjacent Penn Circle storefronts. The return on ELDI’s investment helped the organization double in size, generate revenues to implement a larger community plan, and acquire properties for future development.
PPND also supported the innovative East End Growth Fund, a pool of pre-development funds from local foundations, banks and non-profits. The Fund allowed ELDI to assemble development sites, set design guidelines, and match developments to community goals. Among those goals was significant investment in local housing. The community abolished blighted high-rise residential towers and rerouted traffic patterns to create affordable housing on historic street grids. More than 350 families now live in new townhomes and garden apartment rental units, and new and rehabbed single-family homes have reclaimed blighted lots. In 2008, the community announced future plans for a new “green” development: Mellon’s Orchard South, featuring 80 single-family homes and townhomes, which generate heat from geothermal tanks under a revitalized Garland Park.