Larimer gets community development update

The first good news was enough people attended the recent Larimer Consensus Group meeting that Kingsley Association Executive Director Malik Bankston had to move everyone to a larger room.

The 50 or so group members, residents, stakeholders and political representatives came to hear what having Larimer certified as one of the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Blueprint Communities means for the neighborhood’s development plan.

WORKING ON CONSENSUS—Larimer Consensus Group Chair Roland Criswell responds to a resident’s questions about how development will help with job creation. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

What they heard from FHLB representative John Bendel on March 17, is the certification could mean hundreds of thousands in additional development funds for Larimer.

The FHLB invests funds from its partner commercial banks and receives a percentage of the profits. From those profits it invests in community and business development projects around the country. It created Blueprint Communities in 2004 to sharpen its focus and achieve more beneficial results.

“We found we’d been building housing developments where there was nothing else, no supporting businesses, infrastructure, etc. So as soon as they were completed, the property values dropped,” he said. “Instead of building value in neighboring properties, the surrounding properties affected the newer ones. So we developed this more holistic approach.”

The Larimer Development Plan, with its concentration on access to business development already underway along its boundaries in East Liberty and at Bakery Square, is a key component to the Blueprint certification. And it means projects within the community are eligible for up to $250,000 in low interest loans. Over the years, FHLB has provided more than $152 million in development funding.

The program, however, is competitive. The region served by the Pittsburgh FHLB covers three states and 26 municipalities. In addition to Larimer, Allegheny County Blueprint communities include Carnegie, McKeesport and Wilkinsburg.

The Blueprint funding is a secondary loan fund. To qualify, a project must already have bank financing in place. However, with a large project broken into phases, as the Larimer Plan certainly will be, each phase is eligible to compete for funds.

Bendel said the advantages of the certification include getting extra bonus points with lenders and having the ability to better market the community and its development plan. Another advantage is the funding does not have to go through a government agency.

“It can go to a developer, straight to a contractor, to the lead Blueprint group; any entity with the capacity to do the project and operate the development,” he said. “With this certification you can shop this plan around.”

Ora Lee Carroll, whose East Liberty Concerned Citizens Corp. is the lead Blueprint group for the Larimer Plan, thanked Bendel for explaining the certification, noting that it “puts Larimer on everyone’s radar screen as a serious development project.”

In addition to the Blueprint funding, Housing Authority of Pittsburgh Executive Director A. Fulton Meachem Jr. said the authority has just been awarded a Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant that can help get some of the development preparation work underway.

“We’ve always been thinking about developing Larimer,” he said. “And we want to work with all the stakeholders, schools, transportation and residents.”

Chad Henderson, an aide to state Sen. Jim Ferlo also reminded people that the senator is working to secure a variety of “green” funding for the project, ranging from “green team” support for planting and beautifying the community to tax breaks and subsidies for green building methods once actual development begins.

Though the remainder of the meeting was fairly routine, disagreements arose over group Chair Roland Criswell’s motion to respond to a request by developer Jason Matthews that he come on as a consultant.

Alethea Sims, president of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty, also noted that the Larimer Plan contains several references to changes with the East Liberty Gardens properties, yet none of those residents are being included in these conversations.

“You’re making plans for their homes, and they’re not here,” she said. “They should be here.”

Conversely, long-time Larimer resident Deborah Williams-Jones asked those in attendance why they had only come to that meeting.

“Where have you been for the last two years?” she said. “We need you here every Thursday night. This is about our children and grandchildren, and I want mine to inherit better than what I see here now. Tear it down. Tear it all down.”

Carroll, who thanked everyone for their input also introduced the young man she said will take over for her at ELCC later this year, Timothy Ricketts.

“He’s a good young man, and I’ve been mentoring him for some time,” she said. “As of Aug. 11, he’ll be taking over for me, so I’m asking you to support him and support the community.”

Ricketts said he will try to live up to Carroll’s example.

“Her commitment to Larimer will be carried over in this new plan,” he said. “I hope I am as successful as she is in helping the community.”

The Larimer Consensus Group meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Kingsley Association.

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