Northsider Eric French talks with Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla about reconnecting East Ohio and Federal streets in Allegheny Center at an April 26 meeting. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)

More than 100 Northsiders crowded the basement theater in the Children’s Museum on Monday evening, April 26 to learn about what’s moving and shaking in their neighborhoods.

To start the meeting off, Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla spoke briefly about the Allegheny City Corridor and what exactly it is.

“It’s really two things,” Fatla said. “One, it’s a label for a fundraising vehicle.”

And two, it represents the conference’s vision for the lower Northside as a gateway into the entire area. The conference decided to focus on Allegheny Center, Allegheny West, the Federal/North area and Deutschtown (specifically East Ohio Street) because those are the first places people see when they come to the Northside.

Perhaps the most drastic and potentially controversial item on the agenda was the topic of reconnecting East Ohio and Federal streets through Allegheny Center. There’s one large problem — the mall sits right on top of where Federal Street used to lay.

Fatla said that Pittsburgh History and Landmarks, along with the City of Pittsburgh, have been talking to the mall’s owners about cutting out a chunk of building to allow Federal Street to pass through.

“Okay, you guys do the hard one,” Fatla said. “We’ll do the other three arms of the cross.”

A recent feasibility study shows that it is entirely possible to bring East Ohio Street back through Allegheny Center, as well as reconnect it to North Avenue via Federal Street. No buildings or structures or utility infrastructure stand in the way. Plus, Fatla said, many of the city’s easements are still in place.

The two roads would connect where a large, abstract blue sculpture currently stands.

“Right now you have a four lane highway in the middle of a neighborhood, a highway to nowhere,” Fatla said.

Fatla said that in June the Conference will request proposals for engineering and design. He stressed there was no plan yet, and the Conference is still exploring its options.

Also on the meeting’s agenda, of course, was the Garden Theater block. Tom Hardy of Northside Tomorrow, LLC, a joint venture between the Northside Leadership Conference and the Central Northside Neighborhood Council, said that he expected construction and renovation of the buildings to begin by fall 2011.

“The one point I want to make is we’re seeing a lot of momentum and a lot of interest from developers,” Hardy said.

Northside Tomorrow will put out a new request for proposals on May 15, and developers will have until June 30 to submit. After that, the community will get a chance to review all the proposals and offer input.

Next up, Tom Rosselot of the Leadership Conference spoke about the Western Avenue revitalization that is entering its final phases.

“The Western Avenue folks should be proud. This is a volunteer effort,” Rosselot said. “We’re actually under budget. That’s right, folks, under budget.”

So far, the $1.7 million project has seen the building of new curbs and sidewalks as well as historically accurate light fixtures. The next step is to relocate all the utilities to the alleyways that run parallel to Western Avenue on either side.

Although that task will be difficult, Rosselot said Duquesne Light was on board with the project and it should be complete by the end of summer this year.

Mark Masterson of the Northside Community Development Fund and Barbara Burns of the Deutschtown Merchants Association were on hand to discuss East Ohio Street.

“If we can finance one or two solid businesses every year,” East Ohio Street will become a vibrant business district again, Masterson said.

Development on East Ohio is led by the Deutschtown Mainstreet Program, which is a joint venture of the East Allegheny Community Council, The Deutschtown Merchants Association and the Leadership Conference. The Fund is a subsidiary of the Conference.

Recently, the Historic Deutschtown Development Corporation bought the old Ludwig’s Floral building at an IRS auction and is looking at redevelopment options. Council President Darlene Harris also secured $250,000 from the city’s budget for physical improvements on the street.

Thanks to another $63,000 grant, the Mainstreet Program will be able to renovate the old Liberty Tax building on the corner of East Ohio and East streets.

Last but not least on the agenda was the $3 million that the Northside Leadership Conference will receive over the next three years from the Rivers Casino for housing and business districts.

Development Fund Board Chair Joe Lawrence and Leadership Conference President Walt Nalducci said that each year for three years the casino would donate $500,000 for housing projects and $500,000 for business district development.

The first installment is due June 30, Nalducci said, although the Conference has no solid plans for the money yet. “We’ve had a good working relationship.”