Work starts on new homes in Manchester

Manchester residents anxiously awaiting the construction of the Columbus Square housing development will soon be able to watch progress of the project from their computer screens. After sitting stagnant for nearly a year after the official groundbreaking ceremony in January 2010, work has begun at the former American Electric company site where intra structure work has begun. The Manchester Citizens Corp. is in the process of installing cameras to show progress on the site.

URBAN RENEWAL—Ahmed Martin sees promise in the Columbus Square housing development. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

The 31-unit development at the intersection of Juniata and Sedgwick Streets will consist of ten townhomes connected in pairs of two and 21 free-standing residences. Each single-family residence will contain a private yard and a two-car garage.

“There won’t be anything above ground until June. In November the first five homes should be completed,” said MCC Executive Director Ahmed Martin. “We are also in the process of installing a time lapse camera from which you’ll be able to watch the construction.”

At this stage of construction, developers Fourth River Development LLC are working on installing drain and sewer systems and preparing the rest of the land for development. MCC is doing their part to advertise the homes through their Website and are working with a real estate agent. Three of the first five homes are already under contract.

“The homes will be anywhere between $180,000 to $250,000 depending on how the homeowners customizes. Manchester already has approximately 130 units of housing for low-income,” Martin said. “It’s not that we’re in a gentrification campaign. These projects are important to Manchester because it’s providing home ownership opportunities for residents as well as attracting new residents.”

The Columbus Square development is part of a $40 million redevelopment strategy in the North Side. The Manchester Strategic plan took inventory of the identified vacant and abandoned property in the neighborhood in order to better utilize land value.

“Due to the urban renewal program and the strategy in which demolition was the only option for development, it became imperative for MCC to stave off that demolition plan. Blighted lots and abandoned buildings have by products such as lowering property values as they become havens for crime. Unless an organization chooses to step up and steward the redevelopment of these properties we’ll look like some of the other underserved communities of Pittsburgh.”

“In terms of location, proximity to the stadiums, we have many community anchors and marketable elements to draw from. It’s a matter of construction highlighting opportunities to change the perceptions of Manchester,” Martin said. “Our efforts are being used to catalyze future investment and we’ve already seen the benefits of that.”

In order to make Columbus Square an affordable housing site, PNC Mortgage Company will provide qualified buyers with below market mortgage rates. The new homes also qualify for a comprehensive tax abatement program.

“The conversion of a former Manchester industrial property to residential use is the result of a true public private partnership,” said Mark Schneider, a principal project developer for Fourth River Development. “Funding secured from the (Urban Redevelopment Authority), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Allegheny County’s Community Infrastructure Tourism Fund and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, together with PNC Bank’s financing of a model unit, enabled Columbus Square to move to the construction stage.”

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