If you drive 30 minutes outside of Oakland along I-376 and take a few strategic turns, you’ll find yourself on Braddock Avenue. The street is the main strip of the Braddock borough, a suburb east of Pittsburgh, and it consists of a line of old buildings and warehouses — many of which have been sitting abandoned for years.
Braddock declined with the steel industry in the 1970s and 80s, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development officially declared it a financially distressed municipality in 1988. Mayor John Fetterman — the neighborhood’s champion — has been trying to revitalize the area since 2005. Recent developments show that change is coming.
Trau & Loevner, a custom screen-printing shop, moved in a decade ago, and the redeveloped Free Press Buildings on the avenue now include commercial and residential tenants. And Kevin Sousa — a prominent Pittsburgh chef — is working to open a new restaurant in that building called Superior Motors.
Now Pittsburgh-based Crazy Mocha Coffee Company and local nonprofit Heritage Community Initiatives — which provides transportation and services to low-income Braddock residents — are partnering up to continue helping the revitalization efforts, according to reports from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Tuesday. The coffee chain is planning a new location that could open as early as fall 2017 in the Cuda Building on Braddock Avenue.
The partnership is a sweet one for both parties. The nonprofit, which owns the Cuda building, received a $25,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments to use for improvements to the building’s exterior. Additional funds for the renovation will come from fundraising and a matching dollars agreement between Heritage and Crazy Mocha.
These partnerships will allow businesses and those invested in the community to team up and provide mutual benefits — financial incentives like cheaper rent or matching dollar programs for the businesses and community growth and improvements for the nonprofits — and this is exactly what Braddock needs to jumpstart further progress. But there’s reason to be cautious. Coffee shops and places to custom design t-shirts are nice, but they aren’t the type of businesses a community absolutely needs.
We need to ensure businesses and partnerships are focusing on bringing in grocery stores and opportunities for non-service jobs through industry and manufacturing that can create employment and better sustain the more fundamental needs of Braddock’s population.
Although Braddock is not technically a food desert — two small markets off of Braddock Avenue satisfy the requirements — the town could still benefit from a larger supermarket. A stable, rebuilding community such as Braddock is in need of key essential features including infrastructure, particularly on the abandoned main street buildings, public parks and outdoor activities for children and families and an industry large enough to employ the people who live there.
In addition to the shops, restaurants and renovations of the last few years, the Braddock Borough Council also approved plans to build a medical marijuana facility in March. The borough will still need to obtain the proper licenses from the state but if the plan pans out, it could be another huge boost in investment for the town to both employ Braddock residents and bring in others from out of town. Investments in industry and small, local shops is what Braddock needs to make itself a more attractive place to live and to create more jobs and better lifestyle for its residents.
Partnerships, such as the one between Crazy Mocha and Heritage Community Initiatives, are an ingenious way of incentivizing new business to invest and build in Braddock. But investing in a town like Braddock is risky from an economic viewpoint, so offering other incentives such as tax breaks or rent discounts can help motivate more businesses to open up locations and take a chance on Braddock.
Crazy Mocha may be one of the first to bet on Braddock, but we hope it won’t be the last. And we hope it won’t be the most affordable. As more and more businesses take advantage of the deals the borough is able to offer, it will only lead to more rejuvenation and investment for the town.
Braddock’s former steel industry may have fallen down decades ago, but with a few more quality investments over the year, it’ll surely be strong part of Allegheny County once again.