Purpose of the Project The Little Italy neighborhood was one of the few areas within the City of Erie that were prioritized for neighborhood revitalization activities. Together with three other areas, Little Italy was identified in the City’s Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Inclusion in the NRSA resulted in a reduction in some of the restrictions normally placed on HUD program funds. This priority status within the City provides the neighborhood with the opportunity to request other funding, grants, and technical assistance from the City, State, and Federal government, as appropriate.
The major objectives of this project, which were identified through previous initiatives and reaffirmed during this Little Italy planning process, include the following:
Increase the percentage of owner-occupied residential units; Improve the quality of life and housing; Increase employment opportunities for residents; Increase the number and quality of retail stores and service providers; Reduce crime; Form a neighborhood development corporation to facilitate grants and development; Remove blighted and dangerous properties; Build new market rate homes; and Capitalize on existing assets such as cultural and ethnic diversity, history, and geographic location.
Several new initiatives have been underway in the neighborhood in recent years. The ERA has recently completed a mixed-use, in-fill commercial development project (new construction) and a mixed-use commercial rehabilitation project at 504/506 West 18th Street, including a new parking lot. Both buildings are proceeding toward sales and tenants are currently being recruited. A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the completion of these buildings on September 4, 2007.
The ERA is also assisting several income-qualified homeowners with rehabilitations of their homes. Thirteen homes have been renovated by ERA over the past three years, with three additional home rehabs underway at this time. The ERA has also provided Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for several storefront improvement projects for businesses along the West 18th Street commercial corridor. In addition, several buildings have been declared blighted, purchased, and demolished. The vacant lots have been sold to neighboring property owners, or await an appropriate end user.
HANDS has recently completed the construction of three new homes in the neighborhood. In addition,HANDS has acquired and rehabilitated three houses in the neighborhood and made those homes available for ownership. The new in-fill homes were designed to complement the existing housing stock in the area. Both the new homes and the renovated homes provide a positive influence for redevelopment efforts and are helping to advance the goal of increased home ownership.
Local investment in the neighborhood in the past four years has exceeded several million dollars. Investors involved in the HANDS projects include:
the City of Erie, HOME Investment Partnership Program; DCED through Erie County, Brownfields for Housing Program; Erie County, Act 137 Affordable Housing Trust; Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, Affordable Housing Program; National City Bank and ERA, Walnut Street Partnership; Erie Community Foundation; and the Erie Redevelopment Authority, Lead Hazard Control funds.
Financial investors in the ERA project included: National City Bank (loan), DCED through its New Communities and Brownfields for Housing Programs (grants), HUD (Lead Grant), and the City of Erie (CDBG funds for sidewalks and façade improvements).
In addition, several private property owners have invested in their own properties. Hardinger Transportation Company demolished an old incinerator, the Arnone family renovated a vacant building into an Italian Restaurant, recent immigrant Bosnians are developing a social club for the Bosnian community, Bethesda Children’s Home is investing in a boxing facility in the 300 block of West 18th Street, and others have invested and/or are investing in the neighborhood.
Cathedral Prep’s plans for a sports facility at West 12th and Cherry Streets, the potential plans for a competition-level skateboard park north of Columbus Park, and the recently announced plans for the Midtown Redevelopment project near Griswold Park, north of the neighborhood at 13th and Peach Streets, will have positive impacts on the area, with the strong potential for adding stability and renewed vitality to Historic Little Italy. The Midtown Redevelopment project involves 143 housing units and new retail development, for about a $51 million investment.
These and other recent activities of various neighborhood groups have served to help stabilize the neighborhood; however, the neighborhood is still at a crossroads. The goal of this planning process is to provide a strategy that can be implemented in the neighborhood to successfully continue the stabilization and revitalization process, and provide a basis for obtaining local, state and/or federal funding assistance.