Small town in Pennsylvania explores ways to revitalize their downtown despite being isolated by closure of dilapidated bridge

The borough of Swissvale is in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. With a population of about 8600, it’s located 9 miles east of downtown Pittsburgh.

On March 13, 2023, joined by Swissvale and Wilkinsburg business owners, along with community leaders, Pennsylvania state Rep. Abigail Salisbury (D-Allegheny) led the House Democratic Policy Committee in a roundtable discussion and tour focused on revitalizing downtown Swissvale.

Salisbury hosted the tour and roundtable to discuss ways to empower residents and community leaders to revitalize Main Street and strengthen local businesses.

Local business owners discussed their use of Small Business Administration loans and the sheriff’s sale process to renovate storefronts, as well as the barriers to assuming property ownership through the conservatorship process.

As a small business owner and borough council member, I’ve witnessed the challenges that people face when pursuing projects that would be beneficial for all, such as turning unused storefronts into locations for viable businesses,” Salisbury said.

Unfortunately, the process is often too burdensome and expensive for prospective local business owners to take on because it requires experienced lawyers to navigate all the complexities,” she added.

The committee began the day with a roundtable discussion at Bombay to Burgh, a restaurant founded by chef Gaurav Navin in a space he rented and renovated last year.

Navin immigrated from India and came to Pittsburgh in 2018 to work for Carnegie Mellon University. He also appeared in Season 12 of the reality show Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay.

After the discussion, the committee and business owners toured Swissvale and witnessed the issues contributing to the difficulty in revitalization efforts – including a railroad bridge closure that has negatively impacted local business.

During her time as a councilwoman, Representative Salisbury was asking Norfolk Southern tough questions in order to find solutions to the deteriorating condition of the Washington Avenue Bridge,” Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro said.

We’ve met and talked to the people of Swissvale who are ready to make a difference. However, creating a Main Street where business owners want to stay, thrive and live requires infrastructure investments,” he continued.

More than 100 years old, and owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, the Washington Avenue Bridge was shut down in July because of its poor condition. The bridge, which runs above the railroad line, connects Swissvale.

Swissvale is like many communities across Pennsylvania,” Salisbury said.

It has dedicated citizens who are ready to become local business owners, but it needs resources – including infrastructure upgrades – to help make a revitalized Main Street a reality,” she concluded.

The emergency closure forced the rerouting of bus lines, as well as delays in response times for emergency crews.

Photo courtesy of the House Democratic Policy Committee.


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