Design competition encourages residents to reinvent Penn Hills Mall

A design challenge competition is calling on members of the Penn Hills community to rethink the ideal layout of the Penn Hills Mall to better serve the community.

Entrants are invited to create a design and upload a photo of it to Instagram, tagging @DesignPennHills. Submissions will be collected until May 16. The top three submissions with the most likes will win. Bonus points will be awarded to designs with a sustainability concept.

Three winners will receive a private party for four guests at Painting With A Twist in the mall.

The design challenge is part of a larger project done in partnership with the Leadership Development Initiative program and the Penn Hills Community Development Corporation.

The development program helps emerging leaders hone their development skills. Part of the initiative is working on a community impact project, which gives members the opportunity to work with local actors to revitalize the image of their community.

“It’s a way for us to engage young people and get them excited about the project,” said Juanita Lomax, who works as a change management consultant at Highmark Health Inc.

Past leadership development projects have included a community festival in Wilkinsburg, a mass wedding vow renewal to celebrate love in the community, and a community festival and 5K in Mt. Washington’s Emerald View park system.

A cohort of 50 people between the ages of 26 and 35 work together to lead the project each year. Their backgrounds include corporate and professional organizations, civic entities as well as entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals.

Lomax is one of the leaders of the Cohort Steering Committee. She said the group has been working since September to learn more about the Penn Hills community and interviewing people to come up with a plan on how to improve Penn Hills’ image.

Penn Hills CDC Vice President James Beck said the organization has connected with Leadership Pittsburgh through the Allegheny Conference Community Building Partnership.

He said past LDI projects involved communities that had a primary or centralized location, unlike Penn Hills.

The Penn Hills CDC presented the Penn Hills Mall as a location for improvement.

“A lot of people use the mall, but people use it to do what they need,” Beck said. “This [shopping center] does not encourage a shopping experience.”

Lomax said that during the process, stakeholders — the Penn Hills CDC, the Penn Hills Library, the mayor, business owners and school district officials — were interviewed to get a sense of what that the community was looking to improve in the area. Some suggestions included an entertainment center, active spaces, such as sit-down restaurants, food truck events or sprucing up the area, Lomax said.

“Everyone seemed really excited to see officials taking a look at the mall and seeing what we can do to improve life in the area,” she said.

The process takes almost a year and everything is completed in May. The group will provide a plan with the data collected at the Penn Hills CDC. The Penn Hills CDC will then take the information to see how it wishes to proceed with the revitalization of the area.

“Nothing can come out of this, but the hope is that we get something that will be a win for the community and the mall owners,” Beck said.

Tanisha Thomas is the editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Tanisha at 412-480-7306, tthomas@triblive.com or via Twitter .

Abdul J. Gaspar