Partnership’s (Slight) Course Change

Crowd at a 2022 First Friday
The Mt. Lebanon Partnership sponsors community events such as First Fridays, pictured, the Artists’ Market and the Saturday farmers market. The nonprofit is taking a look at some of its goals and objectives this year. /Photo: John Tamerlano

In the last three years or so, we’ve heard the word “pivot” way more than we ever thought we would. The Mt. Lebanon Partnership, a nonprofit business and professional association responsible for the health of the community’s business districts, is looking to do something less than a full-on pivot.

“We thought it was time to do a refresh of the vision and goals of the partnership,” said John Bendel, board president.

“Since the pandemic, the needs of the community have changed.

We want to double down on bringing people from the community and from the region to Uptown,” he said.

One of the examples of adapting to changing circumstances happened over the holidays, when work on the Vibrant Uptown streetscape forced the cancellation of the partnership’s Washington Road Light Night event in November. With not much lead time, the partnership expanded its Winter Market on December 10, incorporating elements from Light Night, such as a visit from Santa, and a display by the Model Railroad Club of the South Hills, with extended hours and more vendors. The consensus was that the upgraded Winter Market was a success.

“We thought, ‘What if we did a daytime event and made it more accessible to people who may have to work late?,’” said board member Annie Skiba.  “Also a lot of the businesses aren’t open at night.”

“I think by having it during the day and on a weekend was a huge shift,” board member Dorene Ciletti said.

Skiba doesn’t think a new look at how the partnership operates is that seismic of a shift.

“Rather than doing a full strategic plan process, we recognize that the mission and the vision are still very appropriate for the organization.”

Ciletti agrees.

“We’re going to assess our goals and objectives and our activities and make sure we’re moving forward in a way that really benefits the community and the businesses,” she said. “The businesses are really what makes Uptown what it is—we want to be the link between the businesses and the community.

“Sometimes it means having an event that brings people Uptown. Sometimes it’s hosting a workshop to let business owners understand how to access public funding. As a 501(c)(3), we’re able to pursue funding, pursue grants that can add even more value to Uptown and the community.”

The refresh is coming at an opportune time, as the municipality is in the process of completing its comprehensive plan, a blueprint for development over the next decade.

“We want to engage with the municipality as much as possible,” Bendel said.

Some of the goals and projects the partnership is working on include the hiring of a part-time executive director or operations manager; a welcome letter for new businesses; a public art project; a mixer event to bring business owners together; and a set of design guidelines for façade restoration, renovations, signage and new construction.

Bendel has a more elemental goal for the immediate future.

“We need volunteers,” he said. “The events we do require a lot of labor. We’d like to find people to engage more, volunteer, maybe even join the board.”

Ciletti is enthusiastic about a reworked partnership that can adapt to changing circumstances while still retaining its core vision.

“I feel like I keep saying ‘added value,’ but that’s so much of what we do.”