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Location, Location, Loc.... Larimer?

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Borders are funny things. In our emotional lives, they are immutable. We put up fences and fight wars to defend them. Yet they fall away so easily when we want them to.

In this city of fiercely held boundaries is a little neighborhood called Larimer. Deserted of investment for the past few decades, it is now home to Bakery Square, one of the most ambitious "lifestyle" centers the city has seen in recent years.

Yet on its Website -- www.bakery-square.com -- it is described as "Bakery Square at Eastside." Its commercial mission makes it "well-positioned to draw on the nearby, desirable and well-educated neighborhoods of the East End."

Stakeholder Craig Marcus, whose photography studio is in Larimer, penned a letter titled "Where's Larimer?" in which he scolds Walnut Capital for snubbing Larimer. "Where exactly is Eastside?" he asks.

Mosites' Whole Foods development on Centre Avenue first used "Eastside" to imply a blend of East Liberty and Shadyside. It may have been well-intentioned, but the poorer brother always feels slighted when his name is co-opted. Many in East Liberty saw "Eastside" as a mask to make East Liberty more palatable to people who lock their car doors in black neighborhoods.

Now Eastside is encroaching on Larimer, and Craig, who helped found the Larimer Green Team, wants the big players to acknowledge where they are.

He writes: "Why not take pride in investing in the neighborhood that hosts your business, by strengthening the perception of that neighborhood...? This would provide an immeasurable boost to our community..."

The Green Team is 6-months old and has 15-20 members, he said. It is one of several Larimer-based groups. Most neighborhoods have at least three non-profit entities made up largely of residents, and some are more obscure than others. That makes it a challenge for developers, who are expected to solicit neighborhood input into their plans.

According to Mr. Marcus, "the public's voice is nowhere to be found in this process."

Todd Reidbord, president of Walnut Capital, told Walkabout he can't imagine how anyone could have missed all the vetting that has been done on plans for Bakery Square.

"No project that I know of has had more publicity than this," he said. "It has been through the city, the county, the school district, the URA, city planning, PennDOT, ELDI [East Liberty Development Inc.], the Shadyside Action Coaltion" and a Larimer group confusingly named East Liberty Concerned Citizens. It is the most visible Larimer advocacy group. "Also, Councilman [Ricky] Burgess has been involved in every detail.

"I apologize if we missed someone," he said. The Green Team "is a new one on me."

He admitted Bakery Square is "technically" in Larimer "but isolated from what I would consider Larimer."

It would seem to be Larimer that remains isolated.

Facing Mellon Park -- the Shadyside side of Penn Avenue -- Bakery Square is a mammoth design that features the former Nabisco plant and includes 121,000 square feet of street-level retail.

With its Penn Avenue entrance, it has its back to Larimer. Right beside it is The Village at Eastside, home to Trader Joe's.

There's an aerial view at http://www.bakery-square.com/aerial.php that shows the relationships of all the developments using "Eastside" as a location.

"Eastside is a brand the Square is buying into," said Mr. Reidbord. Instead of identifying where Bakery Square is, he said, "I try to just say Bakery Square."

It is big enough to be its own village, although its only housing is a hotel. Office people will be moving in this fall, with retail to follow next year.

Meanwhile, "Larimer is working hard to find its rightful place on the map," Mr. Marcus writes. His group's efforts, and those of the East Liberty Concerned Citizens, have been paying-off. The neighborhood has sprouted community gardens, it has a community plan, strong advocates who include state Sen. Jim Ferlo, some small-business investment and a smattering of young homeowners.

Like Larimer and East Liberty before it, North Siders have groused for years that "North Shore" is a mask. Developers call it a brand.

Regardless of what a place is called, many neighborhoods would bow and scrape to have adjacency to the "desirable" developments Larimer, East Liberty and the North Side have.

Successful neighborhoods let their borders blend. Residents know where the lines are but they don't get up in arms over them.

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