PSU, City partnership leads to new restaurants

The three new restaurants coming to Block22 this fall will transform the dining scene in Downtown Pittsburg.

Brick + Mortar, Cali Burrito and TOAST, which will all be located on the west side of Broadway on the ground level of the Commerce and Baxter buildings, are expected to open in October. When they do, they’ll add not just food and drink options to downtown, they’ll also add jobs, tax revenue and increased foot traffic to the downtown district.

And when they do, it will be the result of years of planning and preparation for that very moment. Though those who did the prep work didn’t always know what that moment would look like.

“During my years on the City Commission, we took the time to prepare Downtown Pittsburg for this very thing,” said Marty Beezley, chair of the Economic Development Advisory Council (EDAC). “We built new sidewalks, paved streets, put in new street lights … all with the hope that we’d one day see this type of activity downtown.”

And as chair of the EDAC, Beezley recently played a major role in helping turn those hopes into reality. Earlier this spring, the EDAC recommended to the City Commission that the city approve a request from Pittsburg State University for a $300,000 forgivable loan.That money, from the city’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF), would be used to fund construction and buildout of the restaurant space. 

The city had already invested $1.5 million to help launch the Block22 project, and this additional investment would be crucial to helping finish it.

“The RLF was started in 1982 by a group of local citizens who wanted to see this type of thing happen in the community,” Beezley said. “We don’t invest these funds in a haphazard way. We thought long and hard about whether this was a good use of taxpayer dollars. Because of the economic development opportunities and the wide range of benefits to the community, we agreed that this would be a wise way to invest those funds.

“I think those local citizens who started this fund in 1982 never imagined that they would one day be used to create this renaissance in Downtown Pittsburg,” she said, “but they did have the vision and foresight to know it was possible.”

Shawn Naccarato, chief strategy officer for Pittsburg State University, said the total $1.8 million investment from the city is a testament to the successful partnership between the university and the city.

“I think a lot of people see Block22 as a Pitt State project,” Naccarato said. “and in many ways, the university is the lead on it. But Block22 doesn’t happen without the support and investment from the city. That’s just a fact. We are true partners in this. I can say with certainty that those three new restaurants would not be coming to Block22 without the support from the city and the EDAC. And honestly, this whole thing probably doesn’t get off the ground without the city’s initial support. We could not be more grateful for the friendship and partnership enjoyed between Pittsburg and Pittsburg State.”

That partnership is the envy of many communities across the region, said City Manager Daron Hall.

“My peers are envious,” Hall said. “They want to know how we pulled it off. How did we get these new restaurants? How did we get Block22 to happen? I explain to them that it’s all about the attitude of the people here. We’ve changed the environment, changed the culture. Everyone is bought in. Pittsburg is open for business.

“The importance of our relationship with Pittsburg State cannot be overstated,” Hall said. “Separately, there is a limit on the things we can both accomplish. But when we move forward together, I truly believe the sky is the limit. The university is one of the major pillars of our city, and we’ve done some really cool things together. I look forward to what we can and will accomplish in the future.”

Pittsburg Mayor Jeremy Johnson said Block22 represents a turning point for Pittsburg.

“This is not just another business opening or another renovation project,” Johnson said. “Block22 is central to the direction Pittsburg is going. Because of the historic nature of the buildings and the new ways those buildings are now being used, I truly see Block22 as that turning point between where we’ve been and where we are headed.” 

Johnson said he and the city commissioners are proud to support the vision and mission of Block22.

“This is a monumental investment and step on the part of the community,” he said, “and it’s impossible to not see it as the foundation for what is to come.”