Support and grow an inclusive district on Fifth and Forbes Avenues where there is a strong market for global food and grocery types. Proactively match spaces with businesses that reinforce and grow the multi-cultural nature of this corridor's business community.
- Need to capture additional economic value for the neighborhood from the growth of the city’s Innovation Economy including the spend of the workers and businesses. A vibrant street level experience typically requires active first floors, although not all of it needs to be commercially oriented to be successful.
- Given changes in retail, leasing first floors may prove to be difficult.
- A program is needed that can tie together the neighborhood’s desire for local businesses, create a pipeline of potential leaseholders, and provide the financial support to make this practical for property owners.
- How the program is developed and managed will influence the outcomes and who it benefits. The planning process has repeatedly identified broad community desires to benefit MWDBE entrepreneurs, particularly from the neighborhood, and immigrants.
- For Fifth and Forbes Avenues, a multi-cultural district could build on the existing base of immigrant owned businesses, recent minority-focused business incubation, and significant customer base of diverse University faculty, staff, and students.
- Interviews with Asian and Asian-American business owners showed that there was much higher demand for space than existed. The result was that restaurants and grocery stores that would have preferred to be located in Oakland moved to Squirrel Hill and Shadyside.
- The Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation also has data that shows Oakland is highly desirable location for Hispanic entrepreneurs and businesses.
- This confirmed was brokers reported during interviews for the Existing Conditions Report, that many businesses want to move into Oakland but can’t find the right space.
- Issues identified included the small nature of spaces in Oakland, that many needed significant investments to make them usable, the lack of programs to support façade improvements, and the lack of coordination and strategy between businesses that has often resulted in multiple businesses in the same area providing similar offerings and competing with each other.
- Interviews suggest that the high up front costs around restaurant and food service businesses resulted in a lack of innovation.
- Conversations in the Steering Committee noted the lack of African, European, and Latin-American food options in Oakland.
- Organizing effort under a coherent program with branding and marketing, could help this district become a regional attraction.
- Many components of this program are relevant to any type of small business program including (1) lease and fit out support for locally owned businesses to serve as tenants in new development where lease costs may be too high, (2) façade improvements for existing commercial areas of Oakland, and (3) a tenant pipeline development program through either a bootcamp or an accelerator / incubator model with business launch support. Affordability of commercial space and housing in Oakland are related issues to address in parallel with this program.
- High up front costs for individual restauranteurs should be overcome through a shared project such as a food hall that allows Oakland’s restauranteurs to innovate and try out new concepts in the neighborhood. Such a project requires collaboration with a property owners and financing. A lower cost option would be a food cart pod, but this may be less desirable on Fifth and Forbes Avenues.
- OBID could master lease space to allow smaller businesses to come in. Issues around assessments may result in the need to identify other funding sources for these kinds of activities.
- Successful global and international districts often have two additional elements: a marketing campaign that clearly defines the district, where it is located, and what can be found there; and regular programming that brings people to the district for celebrations and unique experiences.
- Programming should build on existing celebrations of international holidays for large and growing groups of immigrants, particularly those led by the institutions and their student associations.
- The district and its programming could have benefits that help address other long-standing issues, such as:
- Meeting the needs of international students who noted during the planning process that their culture is not represented in Oakland. During the COVID-19 pandemic when international travel wasn’t possible, this lead to a sense of extreme isolation, but this problem is present regardless of travel.
- Creating opportunities for international students and employees to share their culture and language and enrich the community.
- Lead to more international students and employees choosing to stay in Pittsburgh, potentially becoming long-term residents in Oakland.
- The expression of the district identity could be integrated into other related efforts such as signage, wayfinding, design guidelines, the creation of new open spaces, and public art.
- Some initial steps could be as follows:
- Establish a committee of Oakland-based businesses should be established, likely by OBID, and meet on a regular basis to advise the development of all related initiatives and programs. It may be helpful to select a business leader to chair this committee.
- Confirm with the committee the above findings about needed supports and programs.
- Collect more detailed information from institutions and employers about their employees country of origin. May be valuable to survey these groups to better understand their current and future needs for businesses and services. Expanding data collection to other parts of the city and region may help to better establish a foundation for the district as a regional draw.
- Create an opportunity map in partnership with property owners that shows where the various space needs can be met (e.g., where can a food hall be located?). Consider planned development projects, their spaces, and new open spaces as part of this effort. Keep the map updated.
- Determine the role(s) of university-based entrepreneurship efforts such as Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence and Chatham’s Center for Women Entrepreneurship.
- Determine whether city and regional economic development organizations have an interest in participating.
When to start: 0-2 years
Estimated costs: $$ (out of $$$$)
Project lead(s): OBID, URA, DCP
Project partner(s): Institutions, student associations, PID, PHDC
Potential funding source(s): Community Reinvestment Fund, foundations, grants