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North Hills Monthly

Neighbors in the Strip Works to Promote District’s Unique Character

Jan 30, 2015 04:07PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

Roland’s on Penn Avenue offers a great view of the Strip

If there’s any one neighborhood that encompasses everything for which Pittsburgh is known, it’s the Strip District. Where else can one sample specialty breads and cheeses or grab a beer and eat a lobster roll, all the while shopping for party supplies and T-shirts representing local sports teams?

“Everyone knows about the food, the drinks, and the sports memorabilia, but most don’t know that both the Opera and Ballet are also headquartered here,” said Strip Communications & Marketing Director Cynthia Helffrich. “A part of our job is letting people from the outside know just what is offered.”

Neighbors in the Strip (NITS) is a community development group established in 1999 that works with businesses and residents located within the area’s half-mile radius. “At the time, the general feeling was that there was a great need for more active involvement in order to increase economic opportunities while preserving the personality, historic character and integrity of the area,” said Helffrich.

“We’re unique in that while we promote the area, we also focus on the needs of our community, which is one of the first destinations visitors seek when coming to Pittsburgh.”

Since becoming involved with the group, Helffrich has seen the Strip become a real neighborhood, instead of just a business district. “When NITS was first founded, we had 266 residents living here; today, we have three times the number of residents, with an additional 14 developments in the pipeline, most of which include residential units,” she said.

In addition to promoting the Strip as a place to live and visit, the organization also works with businesses. “We have all sorts of high technology and other professional-type businesses practicing next door to multigenerational family businesses,” said Helffrich. “Almost 13,000 employees come here for work every day!” The Strip District also supports the grocery needs of many of the surrounding neighborhoods including Lawrenceville, the Hill, downtown and the Northside.

“We don’t just promote the area to get people here,” she added. “We also provide a foundation to help businesses navigate the red tape that comes with starting a business in the city, and maintain relationships with local agencies to facilitate the needs of both our residents and businesses. We work with local law enforcement officials to disseminate information to the neighbors, and we work with organizations in other communities as well because we all have the same goal in mind: to promote growth within our region.”

In addition to working with local politicians and groups, the organization also has dealings with dignitaries from around the world. “Many people look to our neighborhood as a model of survival when a single-industry city loses that industry. We teach them how community groups can work with city governments when economic changes occur. We show them that by staying strong and committed to change and growth, they can bring a lot of attention and, subsequently, money into their city,” said Helffrich.

She is especially proud of the group’s development of the Pittsburgh Public Market, a place that gives local, start-up businesses a location to showcase their goods at an affordable price. “We wanted to offer a place where people can not only start, but keep a presence,” Helffrich explained. “We help them think long-term with the prospect of future expansion to other areas of the region as well.”

And the group’s work has not gone unnoticed. The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association (PA-APA) recently awarded the Strip District its Great Neighborhoods Award, a distinction given to only four neighborhoods in the state every year. It is given to “unique, memorable places that work not only for their community, but as a model others want to emulate—places of exemplary character, quality, planning, identity, cultural interest and community involvement with a sustainable vision for tomorrow.”

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