Outside the lower level of the historic Wilkinsburg train station, a brick courtyard surrounded by plants may soon become a fair and market place for idea makers and an enticing venue for entrepreneurs space for them to sit at tables and chairs and brainstorm ideas for their start-ups.
Bridgeway Capital, a not-for-profit lender, plans to open a business assistance center at the recently refurbished train station on Hay Street in early 2023.
The center will offer consultations, workshops and other programs for small businesses, including creative businesses.
The courtyard is a “selling point” for the former station, said Adam Kenney, general manager of Bridgeway Projects, which provided a $750,000 loan to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.for A $6.5 million restoration of the 106-year-old building took place.
The outdoor area provides “community visibility and connection,” said Katie Johnson, director of the Bridgeway Creative Business Accelerator, which helps area artists and makers build and grow their companies and market their wares.
Bridgeway’s mission as a social impact investor is to help fund small businesses, nonprofits and real estate projects in underserved minority communities like Wilkinsburg.
Last year, it deployed $19.3 million in loans and grants, 91 percent of which went to projects in low- and moderate-income areas. About half of Bridgeway’s loans went to businesses owned by people of color; less than half went to businesses owned by women.
Bridgeway’s business assistance program manager, Roderick Ramsey, said the space at the train station will provide entrepreneurs with many of the “in-person settings” resources they’ve missed during the pandemic.
“It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded people, and it’s an exciting time to be in Wilkinsburg,” said Ramsey, who also lives in the borough.
Just a few years ago, Ramsey, who is black, connected with Bridgeway as an entrepreneur, who founded Ocular Arcade, a web design and development company.
As a participant in the Bridgeway Origins program, which assists black makers, Ramsey said he reached out to other black creatives and found “a safe space where I could develop my business and grow as a professional.”
Bridgeway awarded Ocular a $2,000 research and development grant and recommended Ramsey’s business for a $2,000 grant from the Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator Program, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Arts Council and prioritized to those who are Black, Indigenous or people of color Entrepreneurs provide grants.
In April, Ramsey joined Bridgeway to oversee its Origins and Building Inclusive Development program.
The train station restoration is the focus of Wilkinsburg’s efforts to rebuild a once-thriving business district that declined after the region’s manufacturing base collapsed. Opened by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1916, the Beaux-Arts building fell into disrepair after Amtrak ceased service to the area in 1975.
Holes in the roof, broken windows, crumbling brick and stucco, damaged marble and mosaic tiles, and graffiti everywhere are just some of the reasons the Wilkinsburg CDC is revitalizing the decades-old building. Challenges faced when dealing with dilapidated buildings.
The Richard King Mellon Foundation provided a $1 million grant to kickstart restoration efforts. Funding was also provided by other charitable organizations, several local banks and individuals, Wilkinsburg High School alumni and other sources.
The Wilkinsburg CDC, which celebrated its reopening in September 2021, is trying to lease the main floor to a restaurant that will take up the entire floor. The CDC is also “open to ideas like a shared kitchen or a food court concept” on the main floor, said Marlee Gallagher, director of economic development at the CDC.
There is also 1,860 square feet of space on the lower level, which was formerly used as a luggage storage for the train station. This space has access to a shared kitchenette and courtyard with Bridgeway. It could also be used by main-floor tenants, Gallagher said.
bridge road Approximately 2,000 sq. ft. is being leased It will house programs including the Creative Business Accelerator, Monmade, Origins, Building Inclusive Development and Entrepreneurs Hub.
The space has flexible areas that can be used for meeting rooms, classes and meetings, and will also feature a gallery where artists and makers can showcase their work in rotating and permanent exhibitions.
Bridgeway’s headquarters will remain in downtown Pittsburgh.
It also operates 7800 Susquehanna, a former Westinghouse factory in Homewood that leases space to artisans, small manufacturers and job training programs.
Bridgeway received $250,000 from the Hillman Family Foundation to expand space at the train station.
Because the project is supported by Bridgeway’s Building Inclusive Development Initiative, 75 percent of the expansion budget will go to minority contractors for the space.
Much of the furniture will come from manufacturers in Bridgeway’s Monmade program, which helps sell products from local artisans. When it’s complete in early 2023, Bridgeway hopes to install a showcase displaying products created by Monmade participants.
Monmade director Katie Schaible said nine companies are working on sustainable products such as hardware made from melted car parts and lights made from olive oil bottles.
“We wanted it to be a beautiful show of industrial design,” she said.
On Sunday, December 11th from 11am to 4pm, the Wilkinsburg Train Station will host the Made in Wilkinsburg Holiday Show in partnership with PGH Studios. Free events include local vendors and artists, food trucks, DIY events, wreath and tree benefit sales, and more.