Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 27, 2002

2 Senate groups urge University to consider future of Schenley Plaza

Pitt should establish an internal working group to examine the future of Schenley Plaza, two University Senate committees are urging.

Schenley Plaza, the area between Hillman and Carnegie libraries, has been the focus of attention of a variety of civic groups including the Oakland Task Force and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, as well as the mayor's office and the Department of City Planning, since the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sponsored a competition two years ago for suggestions on revitalizing Oakland.

"One area of intersection between community relations and plant utilization and planning involves Schenley Parking Plaza," said PUP chairperson Attilio Favorini at a June 10 joint meeting of the two committees. "The PUP committee was concerned that the University is in a reactive position. We would like to see the University put together a committee that would, in effect, forge a new position on this, taking into consideration aesthetics, parking, traffic flow, all the issues that converge in the parking plaza, rather than simply hearing what the next ideas are."

But University administrators in attendance responded that Pitt is involved in the planning process appropriately.

According to John Wilds, Pitt's director of Community and Governmental Relations, the Oakland Task Force, an umbrella group of community, university, health care and business representatives, is leading the drive to develop the area. "The University held a number of town meetings on Schenley Plaza seeking community input, particularly what the effect may be to remove parking there and make a 'grand entrance' to Oakland," Wilds said. "The Allegheny Conference has joined the project by designating Oakland as a priority area for development."

Wilds added that Urban Design Associates (UDA), which has been retained by The Carnegie and the Parks Conservancy to develop their facilities' master plans, has agreed to coordinate plans for Schenley Plaza.

Representatives from a number of interested parties, including Pitt, UPMC Health System, Carnegie Mellon, City Planning and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, in addition to The Carnegie and Parks Conservancy, will make site visits to three cities this summer.

After visiting Cambridge, Mass., Austin, Texas, and Seattle, Wash., the group expects to make recommendations to UDA, Wilds said. UDA then will issue a report that will include guidelines for an open design competition.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Business Eli Shorak said, "The University is working actively with various stakeholders through the Oakland Task Force. Ultimately, however, these will be city planning decisions, since the city owns the property."

Oakland Planning and Development Corp. (OPDC) executive director David Blenk, who spoke at the June 10 meeting, said community concerns for Schenley Plaza are twofold. "The Oakland community is concerned with prospective uses for the plaza as far as programming or entertainment venues there, and the traffic flow implications. The community also has concerns over parking and traffic flow from the effect of removing 283 parking spaces."

Community Relations Committee chairperson Tracy Soska noted: "The University is only one voice in the Oakland Task Force process. That's what I'd like us to remain sensitive of, that there are other community interests besides ours."

But Soska added that a recent social work graduate student study showed that plans for Oakland were multiple, diverse and often did not use the same comparative data.

"We found 27 master plans, by at least 23 organizations, including community plans, higher education plans, health care plans, culture and social service nonprofits' plans and technology industry plans. Our report, called Oakland Connections — Competing and Complementing Community Interests, was not a significant critique of those plans, but it does show that some efforts are better coordinated than others, and that there are significant 'disconnects' among them with often competing interests."

He urged Pitt to develop recommendations that would represent its best interests, while at the same time remaining active on the Oakland Task Force.

At the same meeting, the Community Relations and PUP committees also jointly recommended that Pitt form an internal working group to examine the proposed Mon-Fayette Expressway project.

Soska said that Pitt should look at the Mon-Fayette project with an eye toward developing its own recommendations, "even though the project may permutate several times by the time it gets to Oakland."

Both Shorak and Wilds maintained that there is not enough definitive information about the project for Pitt to formulate recommendations at this time.

Wilds said, "We are involved in discussions with the community on Mon-Fayette. But right now we do not have enough information. There are a lot of proposals and schemes floating around, a lot of speculation."

OPDC's Blenk said, "The Oakland's community's main concern with Mon-Fayette has to do with Bates Street and how that interchange might look. If you look at the project's environmental impact statement, they've asked for six lanes of concrete right up to the Boulevard of the Allies, adding somewhere around 55,000 cars a day. The community doesn't support the expressway; they feel it will threaten housing, increase pollution and add traffic congestion."

PUP's Favorini said, "Virtually any project that facilitates the further evacuation of the city into the suburbs, the reduction of the tax base and contributes to sprawl is generally not a good idea. Certainly, as the University thinks about going forward, these sorts of concerns need to be addressed. My fear is that this is a juggernaut that's unstoppable. I'm worried about whether we'll have any say at all."

The two Senate committees also recommended that Pitt solicit the business of Fannie Mae, a national private company that provides mortgage money in support of affordable housing.

Committee members hoped that Fannie Mae funding would encourage Pitt employees to buy housing in Oakland, increasing the area's stability and lessening problems of absentee landlords and housing code violations.

–Peter Hart

Leave a Reply