During the next few months, the Hilltop Alliance will recruit new businesses to occupy open storefronts along Brownsville Road in Mt Oliver Borough as they expand their business district program to include the Mt Oliver Business District.
The Hilltop Alliance program will build on renovations that have already been made in Mt Oliver Borough. They’ll promote Mt Oliver, implementing marketing and running special events to bring in people to shop, eat or drink at new and existing businesses on Brownsville Road.
Right now, businesses in Mt Oliver have a 75% business failure rate within two years. The organization will be “definitely trying to turn it around,” Aaron Sukenik, Executive Director of Hilltop Alliance, said.
The Hilltop Alliance already has a business district revitalization program underway along East Warrington Avenue, the main business corridor in nearby Allentown. 37 new businesses opened in that district. The business retention rate has been excellent – the storefront vacancy rate dropped to 15%. Improvements in the Allentown business district have included numerous renovation projects, private-sector investments, and loans and grants to businesses.
The expectation is that the Hilltop Alliance will replicate the Allentown Business District success into the Mt Oliver Business District. Mt Oliver isn’t going to be another Allentown – what’s going to happen in Mt Oliver will be driven by entrepreneurial interests, available spaces and the borough’s plan, Sukenik said.
The Hilltop Alliance’s work is made possible by the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), a tax credit program to encourage businesses to invest in projects that improve distressed areas. Generally the projects are lengthy – five or more years. Awards are made by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Carrick is the most populous neighborhood in the Hilltop Alliance’s service area. The Carrick Community Council used to work with Economic Development South, which is defunct. “We would be very open to and interested in doing more work alongside Carrick Community Council in the next five years,” Sukenik said.
The projects and programs the Hilltop Alliance undertake “tend to move around, following communities with organizations that have neighborhood plans, a business district plan or a housing strategy,” Sukenik said. The community organizations that comprise the Hilltop Alliance take the lead in the planning. The alliance works to implement the plans.
Along with developing business districts that can grow communities, the Hilltop Alliance works to boost the quality of life for people who live on Pittsburgh’s Hilltop by improving housing.
The Hilltop Alliance’s Property Stabilization Program may be the alliance’s largest program. It helps low-income homeowners keep their homes in compliance with city housing codes. Keeping homes in good repair helps to stabilize communities with abandoned properties and foreclosures. More than 700 homeowners have benefited from the program. A full-time construction manager was added to allow more code compliance projects to happen in Knoxville, St Clair and Mt Oliver Borough.
In a separate program, the alliance was part of the Mt Oliver City/St Clair Community Group securing capital budget funding to install new sidewalks and intersections along Mountain Avenue and Fisher Street.
The Hilltop Alliance has worked to improve housing in Mt Oliver City and St Clair. The alliance and the Mt Oliver City/St Clair Community Group provide home repair assistance to people who need it, improve public spaces and acquire vacant properties.
The alliance is working with the Knoxville Community Council to develop a housing strategy. Knoxville is primarily a bedroom community. The strategy may be to acquire tax delinquent lots that are zoned for single housing and build new houses.
The Hilltop Alliance works to improve the availability of food in the area.
Food distributions are made available to people on the second Friday of the month through the Hilltop Alliance’s Fresh Fridays in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Hilltop residents who are on unemployment, or who receive food stamps, cash assistance, medical assistance, SSI, or Social Security Disability are generally eligible. Grab-N-Go boxes of produce and dairy products are given out. Up to 500 families are served about forty pounds of fresh food each month at the St. John Vianney parking lot, 823 Climax Street in Allentown. It’s about a 6-minute drive from Carrick.
Another way the alliance improved people’s access to food locally was the creation of the Hilltop Urban Farm, where people who live on the hilltop can rent small plots of land to grow their own vegetables and fruits. The farm trains new farmers. It teaches school-age children about growing food, nutrition and cooking. There’s an orchard and a dozens of acres of land that’s undeveloped on purpose.
The farm is one of several Hilltop Alliance projects that brought more greenspaces to Pittsburgh’s Hilltop. The alliance helped create a greenway from the former Knoxville Incline in the mid 2010s. Trails & steps on the greenway connect Knoxville to the South Side. Along with the Lunchtime Lot on East Warrington Avenue and the Haberman Avenue Corridor, the alliance developed 123 acres of greenspace in the Hilltop.
The alliance created fifteen beautiful Lots of Flowers in vacant lots throughout the Hilltop, including in Knoxville and Mt Oliver City. The flowers are a mix of Pennsylvania wildflowers. The gardens were installed professionally to be low maintenance. Neighborhood stewards selected the lots, and other volunteers pitched in. Those Lots of Gardens can hold more water during heavy storms, which can reduce flooding.
The roots of the Hilltop Alliance go back to the mid 2000s, when the Coro Center for Civic Leadership, the Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie-Mellon University and Neighborhood Allies – then called the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development – were interested in seeing a grassroots effort established to grapple with the slow decline that was evident in the hilltop neighborhoods. The Allentown CDC, Beltzhoover Civic Association, Carrick Community Council, Hilltop Economic Development Corporation and what is today called the Mt Oliver City/St Clair Community Group formed the Hilltop Alliance by the end of the decade. Later, the Knoxville Community Council, the Mount Washington CDC and South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association joined the organization.
The Hilltop Alliance office closed its doors to the public during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020/2021. Its staff worked remotely, providing services to residents and small businesses by phone, videoconferencing and email.
The Hilltop Alliance is a collaborative organization of community-based organizations that improves housing, food and business district infrastructure in twelve neighborhoods on a southern ridge that overlooks the rest of the city. The organization’s offices are located in the Allentown neighborhood at 831 East Warrington Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15210.