Date: December 11 – 16, 2016
Location: McKees Rocks, PA
Sponsor: McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation
Panel Chair: Alan Razak, AthenianRazak LLC, Philadelphia, PA
Background and Panel Assignment
McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, once home to more than 18,000 people, suffered a loss of businesses and population in the 1970’s and 1980’s. As of July 1, 2015, the population was 6,053 and the city has lost population every year since 2010. The median household income within McKees Rocks is 23,656 and nearly 33 percent live below the poverty rate within the Mckees Rocks. The city of Pittsburgh, which is included within the study area, is the second largest city in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania (304, 391 2015). Over the last few years Pittsburgh has seen a small population growth. The region has also remained steady with a population approximately at nearly 2.4 million residents which makes it the 26th most populous region in the United States.
The McKees Rocks CDC, the borough, and several additional stakeholders form local and regional agencies are seeking input from ULI to address issues related to reinvestment, land use, and poverty. The panel was asked to respond multiple questions under three main goals:
- The Market and Placemaking: Provide forward-looking economic analysis, site analysis, and design for a sustainable, resilient, and equitable development for the McKees Rocks and Esplen communities. This should focus on the market potential rather than just the current market capacity and recommend strategies for creating a dynamic and vibrant community that attracts new residents and boosts quality of life.
- Transportation, Connections, and the Physical Landscape. Recommend strategies and examples that both utilize the expanding role of the study area within the global freight network but also create an environment that is safe for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-freight related users. Provide recommended strategies to better connect with the Chartiers Creek and Ohio River.
- Implementation. Establish a timeline and steps necessary to ensure the achievement of a defined vision for the study area. Recommend strategies that will help the sponsors better engage with community residents and stakeholders across the Pittsburgh region.
Summary of Recommendations
- McKees Rocks and Esplen should be considered as one community during planning and execution of strategies.
- Improve the branding for McKees Rocks and Esplen to embrace the community’s existing grittiness and working-class feel. The “New Town” name and concept should not be a part of this rebranding; instead, the name should better reflect the uniqueness and character of McKees Rocks.
- The community should restore the street grid by selectively demolishing a portion of Chartiers Crossing to connect the Hays Manor site to the broader community.
- Chartiers and Linden avenues are the key gateway to lower Chartiers Avenue. Where they meet is a good place for a public square or plaza.
- It is critical to finish the Roxian Theatre and leverage it with adjunct uses as a focal point for events and future programming.
- McKees Rocks CDC, Trinity Development, the borough of McKees Rocks, and regional partners should focus on attracting the right type of industrial uses to the former P&LE site. These would include small urban manufacturers
rather than warehouse and distribution users, which might be easier to attract but would be less beneficial.
- The community should save available flat land for industrial uses ancillary to CSX and should keep trucks departing the facility on Island Avenue heading north
away from downtown. Plans should discourage truck traffic from cutting through the Shoppes at Chartiers Crossing or though the McKees Rocks downtown commercial core.
- Esplen should remain mostly residential. Some office units could be built along West Carson street.
- Senior housing should be added near lower Chartiers for easier access as part of the Hays Manor redevelopment strategy.
- The McKees Rocks CDC and others should engage the community through multiple avenues to celebrate and inform citizens. Efforts could include a CSX welcome party.
- Agencies and organizations should support immigration and refugee resettlement programs to quickly repopulate and stabilize McKees Rocks and Esplen.
- The McKees Rocks CDC should focus on
- Homeownership, and
- The downtown commercial core.
- The McKees Rocks and South West Pittsburgh CDCs should assist and advocate for, but not lead, important efforts related to
- Industrial development,
- Social services,
- Outdoor public space,
- Waterfront improvements, and