Falconhurst Development broke ground on an $11.5 million multi-site restoration and new construction project in Wilkinsburg on Monday.

Scheduled to open in 2016, the development will include four long-vacant buildings erected at the turn of the century and a set of new townhouses in and around the Hamnett Place neighborhood, which is listed on the National Historic Registry. The development is led by Landmarks Development Corporation, a real estate arm of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

Forty out of the 150 buildings in Wilkinsburg’s central business district are vacant, but borough officials are hoping that a new tool will help spur development in that distressed municipality.

Some of these properties have been vacant for a decade or two, according to Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC).  She said on one block just one of the nine buildings is occupied.

“That’s a huge loss visually for people driving through the business district," Evans said. "It looks blighted.”

Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr

Residents in Wilkinsburg and Bellevue voted to pass referendums Tuesday allowing liquor licenses for the first time in 80 years.

Marlee Gallagher, communications and outreach coordinator for the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC), said the group hopes the measure will spur much-needed economic growth.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Hoping to dispel a rumor that the closure of Wilkinsburg Middle and High School is imminent, district officials announced the school will be open for the 2015-2016 school year.

Beyond that, the district is still examining options. The struggling district is dealing with declining enrollment and has had funding issues as more students enroll in charter schools.

Robyn Lambert

If walls could talk could be the premise for a tour of vacant homes taking place this weekend in Wilkinsburg.  The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation  and Carnegie Mellon University students are combining their efforts to attract potential residents to the borough. How do they plan to accomplish this task? We’ll find out from Wilkinsburg CDC Communications & Outreach Coordinator Marlee Gallagher and Carnegie Mellon School of Public Policy and Management at Heinz College student Kenneth Chu.

Gallagher says that although they're encouraging a change in the area, the community's overall well-being and identity is still in the forefront of the initiative:

"I don't think it is gentrification necessarily. At the WCDC something that we strive to do and will continue to strive to do is to help the existing businesses that are in Wilkinsburg. We're working on a big small marketing campaign to show the Pittsburgh region and beyond what is in Wilkinsburg, what Wilkinsburg has to offer; and we do want more businesses to move in but its not necessarily to push out the businesses that are there. That's not something we ever want to see happen." -Marlee Gallagher

Also in the program, the Austin-based innovation movement titled "Black Sheep" stops in Pittsburgh to hear stories of renewal on its "America's True North" tour and business contributor Rebecca Harris puts a spotlight on Wilkinsburg. 

Courtesy photo

On a recent Friday evening, acoustic music was presented at Biddle’s Escape, a coffee shop in Wilkinsburg. Singer and songwriter Barbara Klein appreciates that the venue is “intimate and welcoming.”

Owner Joe Davis says, "We’re always looking for creative ways to showcase artists.”

Flickr user Phil Dragash

In the last 4 ½ years, 35 commercial properties in Wilkinsburg’s central business district have been sold, 22 new businesses have moved in, and 12 formerly vacant storefronts have been filled.

That’s according to Tracey Evans, Executive Director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation.

Like many towns in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Wilkinsburg is slowly emerging from the combined effects of the 2008 economic recession and the steel industry’s demise in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Wilkinsburg is a community in transition, and now it’s getting help to implement change.

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC) has announced that the borough has been accepted into the Main Street program.

The state operated Main Street program helps communities revitalize their central business districts and residential neighborhoods.

“It will give us more access to funding from the state for projects, such as façade grants or other planning grants that we need to continue working on,” said Tracey Evans, WCDC executive director.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Before German immigrant Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype machine in the late 19th century, type was assembled one letter at a time. But the linotype (dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world" by Thomas Edison) allowed printers to compose entire lines of text — hence the name "line-o-type."

Flash forward some 130 years, and we meet Brandon Boan, one of a growing number of artists and designers living and working in Wilkinsburg.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala says a Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed a man in Wilkinsburg in April was justified in opening fire.

Officials say Adrian Williams, 29, who was killed in the shooting, had led police on an early-morning high-speed chase that started in Homewood and ended in Wilkinsburg, when he crashed the car he was driving and then ran through yards with a handgun.

Zappala said at least 12 other officers were at the scene and had been involved in the chase. Officer Christopher Kertis shot Williams six times.

Wilkinsburg could turn into the new South Side, according to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC), after they re-apply for the Main Street Program.

WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans said Wilkinsburg has been compared to South Side back in 1975 before they partnered with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, and now that Wilkinsburg has partnered with the same foundation, the community is hoping for the same success, especially by being recognized for the Main Street Program.

“Muslims for Life” is holding a blood drive in Wilkinsburg Monday as part of a national campaign to collect 12,000 pints of blood and save an estimated 36,000 lives.

Adnan Ahmed, an organizer for the event, said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community launched the campaign in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

“On that particular day, not only those planes, but also the religion of Islam we believe was hijacked by painting a wrong and militant picture of the religion,” said Ahmed. “And the terrorist extremists have created suspicion of all Muslims.”

Wilkinsburg, like other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, has had its share of troubles including crime, blight, loss of population and struggling schools.

And also like other neighborhoods, Wilkinsburg is trying to turn all of that around and revitalize. The fruits of some of those efforts will be on display for the inaugural Wilkinsburg House and Garden Tour.

Eighteen people alleged to have ties to a violent drug gang based in Wilkinsburg have been arrested in what is being called a major bust. The suspected drug dealers were taken into custody as part of a joint effort involving the PA Attorney General's Organized Crime Section and the Allegheny County Police.

The "Operation Wilkinsburg Crew" was launched, according to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, in reaction to a series of homicides and shootings in Wilkinsburg believed to be related to heroin trafficking.

Wilkinsburg once had a popular business district with a large, upwardly mobile population, according to the Borough of Wilkinsburg website.

But the borough has struggled ever since the steel mill closures in the 1970s and '80s resulted in layoffs and a depleted tax base.

But Wilkinsburg students are looking towards the future.

The students, as part of an after-school program called FUSE, produced a short documentary called "Wilkinsburg: The Way We See It," which highlights efforts made by the community to redevelop.