Below is an blog post and letter drafted by Danina DiBattista addressed and personally delivered to each member of Bellevue Council (Linda Woshner, Jim Viscusi, Jane Braunlich, Frank Camello, Kathy Coder, Mark Helbling, Lynn Heffley, James Scisciani, Susan Viscusi), Mayor George Doscher, and a few businesses in Bellevue after the alcohol referendum vote which occurred last year (2011).
Introductory Blog Post
The referendum to transition Bellevue from a dry town to a wet town had been voted down by about 80 votes. Many members of council, a few power players in Bellevue, and the Mayor had run a very successful campaign against the referendum. The Mayor and I had gone back and forth about the issue via the “letter to the editor” column of The Citizen, but the “Allow Alcohol Sales In Bellevue” group were more than willing to sit down and try to work together after the referendum was narrowly voted down. I read an article in the Post Gazette that included some interviews with both Mayor Doscher, as well as councilman Mark Helbling. Mark was quoted as saying “It’s a big disappointment. But [referendum supporters] talked about it [Tuesday] night, and we said, ‘How can we make this the coolest BYOB place in the city? How can we do it?'”. Mayor Doscher was quoted as saying, “It’s exactly what we campaigned for. We don’t want that kind of liquor license in Bellevue,” and “Now it’s time for us to shift gears and bring people together. I think it’s critical that we work together. There are a lot of creative people on both sides”, and “Nightlife is … part of the puzzle, we need all of the pieces.”
The article may be read in its entirety by clicking here.
This article really motivated me as both a business owner and as a resident in Bellevue. I thought, “WOW! Lets extend the olive branch. Let’s use the mayors quote and roll with it. Let’s bring people together, work together, and get the creativity flowing and try to make this town great without the alcohol!” I consulted with a few of the people on our side of the campaign and asked if they’d be open to me drafting a letter to the council, mayor and the business owners in town. I asked if they’d be willing to work together with opposition to try to make this town great. They agreed, and I drafted the letter. I emailed it out to everyone and I heard back from a number of Bellevue businesses, but only heard back from two council members: Kathy Coder and Mark Helbling. They were excited about it, and were more than willing to participate in my proposition. I was disappointed that I didn’t hear back from anyone else. However, it was also an eye opener that all the talk about “coming together” and “nightlife being part of the puzzle” were mostly hollow words that were used to save face. It became pretty clear to me that these people didn’t want to see things change. They’re happy with the steady decline of the town. I like to see solutions to problems. I think the opposition is great at pointing out the problems, but never really move forward with solutions. It’s easy to sit around and complain and moan about what’s going wrong, but coming up with ideas for solutions isn’t as easy. I came up with what I thought would be a good start for reversing the decline of the town, but they didn’t even pay me enough respect to respond and say that they weren’t into it. They just completely ignored my letter and moved forward with their status quo.
I revised the letter and presented a printed copy for the second time to each member of council in April 2012. I included my contact information so that they could get in touch with me if they were interested in participating. I have not heard from them regarding the idea, and I’d be willing to bet that I won’t be hearing from them about it any time soon.
Danina’s Open Letter to Bellevue Council, Mayor Doscher, and Numerous Bellevue Business Owners
I’m really happy to see all of the upcoming events in town! The Farmers Market, Car Cruise, Skate Plaza planning, Dog Park, etc…Really exciting stuff!!! Along with the abundance of live music being offered at some local establishments!
I’m writing to offer a suggestion. Hopefully one that we can come together on and try to use in a positive manner towards making Bellevue a better, more attractive place for people to spend their time and money. With an ultimate goal of creating a place where out-of-towners will consider Bellevue as a place to purchase a home, and continue to support this wonderful walking town.
I’m suggesting a “field trip” to some areas around Pittsburgh that have received some positive attention for their development. Whether for great restaurants & bars, focus on the arts, housing development, economic recovery, area beautification, etc…
I think we can learn a lot from our neighbors, if we go into it with an open mind and positive attitude. These places are successful for a reason, and we should follow in their foot steps and learn from their mistakes (hopefully before we make the same ones). One thing that all of these places have in common is that young people have the desire to live in these neighborhoods. And fortunately for the neighborhoods, young people enjoy going out and supporting their local stores and restaurants.
One significant thing that Bellevue has over the following areas…PARKING! And lots of it! As well as a close proximity to downtown.
A few places come to mind for me personally, because I visit these areas often for events, restaurants, and exploring.
Lawrenceville. Holy cow, this area has come so far over the past decade! Award winning restaurants, boutiques, community redevelopment, and a really heavy hand in the local arts. I’ve gone to art battles, small venue concerts, and I have dinner in L’Ville a few times per month. All on-street parking, and it’s a real pain in the rear to park here…yet the area is still booming.
Regent Square. Talk about an area pushing the limits. There’s virtually no parking (other than street parking), there’s no crosswalks in the main business district (except at either end of the main shopping area), and I think one half of the street is dry, while the other half isn’t? Either way, that area is booming with outdoor seating at its restaurants, and the street is lined with some very interesting store fronts! I’ve never seen Regent Square void of people. The more people on the street, the lower the crime, and the safer the area feels.
Penn Circle (Shadyside/East Lib). What used to be a little bit of a scary area is now an asset to the East End. Lots of award winning restaurants, a Whole Foods store, and mid-upscale shopping. Parking is a giant problem, I’ve driven in circles for 20 minutes before finding a spot. Yet the area is so great, it was well worth the frustration. Bellevue needs to be THAT desirable.
Shadyside. Particularly Walnut Street. I dream that Bellevue can have the appeal that this place has. The street never dies, and there’s always something going on. After some research, I realized that there aren’t as many expensive restaurants in that area as one might think. Most are between $15-30 per person, which is right in the middle. There are a few very upscale boutiques and eateries, but also some mid to lower priced places as well. With lots of young people in the area, paired with an abundance of wealth has made for a well-balanced shopping district. The local authorities have really made it their goal to facilitate the businesses, making it easy for them to attract customers. And this all adds to the hustle-bustle charm of this area.
Slippery Rock. They went from blah to fabulous in the course of a decade. The town voted “yes” to liquor and it has been a great for its development. Slippery Rock is wonderful. The storefronts are not all occupied yet, but with the recent development, this region is a now a desirable area for entrepreneurs. The streets are busy and bright. And eating at the recently opened North Country Brewing is one of my favorite things to do in SR.
Squirrel Hill. I think this is a great model for Bellevue! Lots of exciting small businesses and a nice walking community. Benches and other places to sit line the street, offering a place to enjoy the weather during the warmer months of the year. I think that our proximity to downtown is better than Squirrel Hill, but they have the opportunity to draw from the East End, Lawrenceville, as well as Oakland. I visit this area often, and I’m always amazed at the abundance of outdoor seating and the overall appeal of the town itself. When you drive or walk through this area, you can’t help but have the desire to BE there. It is just such an attractive town. I would consider this to be one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh.
So a few things that all of these places have in common are an abundance of young people, attractive businesses (that are worth driving around 20 minutes for), local authorities that facilitate the businesses, and of course all of these towns are “wet”. Since we don’t have the option to be “wet” at this moment, the goal is to hopefully set up Bellevue to be just as successful as these areas, without the alcohol option at this time. Only then, can we become the destination town. It would be nice for everyone to come together and take a stroll through these areas, see what they’re doing right, and try to put our heads together. Perhaps we can grab a bite to eat and talk over lunch/dinner? We can ask some business owners in these areas about their experiences with opening their stores, and how the community and local government played a part in their success. I will personally set up these meetings and make all the arrangements. I know that this field trip will probably happen during the hours that you’re typically not working. But I think it’s well worth the “overtime” to really get to know the reason that other areas have had success. We’re all busy, but I think we all want Bellevue to be the best it can be, so let’s put in the extra work and make it happen. If nothing else, at least it gives us the opportunity to discuss issues outside of the political confines of the Borough Building.
Please take some time to check out some of these articles and links:
Slippery Rock Redevelopment – (http://www.slipperyrockpa.org/slippery-rock-development/slippery-rock-revitilization) and (http://www.slipperyrockpa.org/slippery-rock-development) The parallels between Bellevue and Slippery Rock are great!
I welcome all responses and suggestions! And I would really like to participate in some field trips! Please forward this email!I think it’s safe to say that this idea is supported by those that are looking for the next step towards bringing Bellevue into the 21stcentury. Let’s try to come together and do some research. Put in the time and work for a better community.
Maybe in the mean time, as Bellevue council members and community enthusiasts, you could take some personal time to make your way through the Bellevue business district. It would be great to have the people that are responsible for making the rules get in touch with the very people that the rules have an effect on. It would be lovely to shake your hand and introduce my business and my passion to you on a personal level. I’m sure that the other business owners would also enjoy this. Really getting out there and meeting business owners and community residents alike may give you an entirely new perspective on this town and what it really needs to succeed. I’m sure the locals and business owners would be more than willing to make suggestions as to what they need to help the town become the bright and vibrant region that we all know it can be.
If the idea of doing something like this doesn’t appeal to you, then I must ask you…Why did you run for council? What are you aspirations for this town? What really gets you to be passionate about your role in the Bellevue community? It’s not about who has the “power”, it’s about what you can do to make this a better place.
Thank You for your time!”