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October 24, 2002

Pitt supports converting Schenley Plaza

Pitt is supporting the redevelopment of Schenley Plaza into a new “town square,” University officials told the Senate community relations committee last week.

Preliminary redevelopment recommendations were submitted last month by land-use consultants BRV Corp. of New York City, which studied the 5-acre Schenley Plaza site between Hillman and Carnegie libraries.

BRV, which was hired by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, oversaw the renovation of Bryant Park in Manhattan. Bryant Park is similar to, although somewhat smaller than, Schenley Plaza, according to G. Reynolds Clark, Pitt vice chancellor for community and governmental relations.

“[BRV official] Dan Biederman gave us a usage plan for the whole Schenley Plaza area,” Clark said. “He’s not a landscape architect. He envisions how the space could be used. Then you go out and find somebody who architecturally can put the functional forms to it,” Clark said.

Among the preliminary recommendations are to maintain some green space, including preserving the sycamore trees in the area and adding gardens with an international flavor; have a multi-use stage area for entertainment; build gazebos for vendor sales, and have portable, inexpensive furniture, Clark said.

The overall goal of the project is to make Oakland a more attractive destination by creating a culture-oriented area. “Right now, Oakland is a viaduct, with 75 percent of traffic going right through it,” Clark said. “We’re looking for ways to entice people to use this as a walking area, to take advantage of the libraries, the Carnegie museums, the Nationality Rooms, Stephen Foster, Phipps and other attractions.”

Clark said the Oakland community has embraced the concept.

“The groups overseeing this project are very comfortable with Biederman’s vision of the usage, sort of a flexible town square with a variety of possible activities that will go on there,” Clark said. Those groups include the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Oakland Task Force, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, among others.

Pitt, along with Carnegie Mellon, UPMC Health System and The Carnegie, are represented on the amenities subcommittee of the Allegheny Conference and on the Oakland Task Force, according to John Wilds, director of community and governmental relations.

The two Pitt officials cautioned that the plans are preliminary and subject to the normal city planning approval process. No timeframe is yet established and no formal funding is in place, although Wilds said he expected the University would contribute some funding if the plans are approved.

Clark said, “There are a couple givens that everybody has acknowledged: You can’t shrink Forbes Avenue, because Forbes is state-maintained. But some things could be done with Clemente Drive, Schenley Drive and the street in front of Hillman (Pennant Place). The feeling is that there will always be streets there [open to vehicles]. But, for example, the street in front of Hillman maybe doesn’t need to be that wide, doesn’t need parking on two sides, and since it’s not quite two lanes wide, maybe it could be reduced to one lane and have one side parking only.”

Likewise, planners will look into compatible uses for the area that includes Mazeroski Field, a city-owned recreation area, and the area in front of Carnegie Library.

“We will want to re-invigorate the historic old fountain in front of Carnegie Library, for example, and the thinking is that the trees should stay,” Clark said.

Under the proposal, the current 278-space surface public parking lot would be removed, although some short-term parking will remain or be added to the ends closest to the libraries, Clark said.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is exploring parking expansion plans to help offset the loss of parking in the Schenley Plaza area.

Clark added that The Carnegie is expected to build a new entrance to its parking facilities from Schenley Drive just past the Schenley Park bridge, which should help alleviate traffic congestion in the area. Currently, parkers have to enter and exit at Forbes Avenue and South Craig Street.

Clark acknowledged that other “broader context” issues still need to be discussed, including overall parking capacity and traffic flow in Oakland, and larger-scale regional projects such as the proposed Mon-Fayette Expressway.

“But the feeling right now on Schenley Plaza is, ‘You build it, they’ll come. Let’s get this done.’ It shows that we’re interested. And besides, the project really has momentum now,” Clark said.

Pittsburgh mayor’s spokesperson Craig Kwiecinski told the University Times that the mayor’s office is a full partner in the effort to make Schenley Plaza an attractive connector between Oakland and Schenley Park. “We recognize there are parking issues, but we absolutely support making the plaza into park space, and we’re behind the community effort to do that,” he said.

In other community relations committee developments:

• Clark reported that plans are approved for replacing the Boulevard of the Allies connector bridge that goes over Forbes Avenue near the Downtown side of Craft Avenue.

The new bridge, dubbed the Oakland portal bridge, is expected to be an enticing landmark entry to Oakland, he said. Plans call for the completion of the bridge in 2004.

A new connector ramp between the Boulevard (outbound from Downtown) and Forbes Avenue is set to be done in 2005, and a new “slip ramp,” connecting Fifth Avenue to the Boulevard of the Allies inbound is due in 2006.

The portal bridge project eventually will affect traffic patterns in the area, Clark said. “You won’t go down Fifth to Craft Avenue and take a right onto Forbes (against traffic) to go into town via the Boulevard,” Clark said. “You’ll go on down Fifth and [the state] is going to condense some land there and build a fork leading directly onto the Boulevard toward town.”

Wilds added, “This is a state project, in which the city will bear some costs.”

• Pitt’s track and field and soccer teams, vagabonds since the razing of Pitt Stadium in 1999, may have a new close-to-campus home, according to Wilds. Pitt is negotiating with the City Housing Authority to purchase a portion of undeveloped land in the former Robinson Court area near Trees Hall as the home site for both men’s and women’s soccer and the track and field teams. Wilds said the negotiations are preliminary and no timetable has been established.

• The University continues to look for retailers to rent space on the ground floor in the recently completed Sennott Square, Wilds said. Panera Bread is tentatively expected to open there Nov. 18, according to a Panera spokesperson.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 5

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