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September 11, 2003

Plans for Schenley Plaza unveiled

Turning concrete into green space inverts the trend at most urban campuses. But Schenley Plaza, the 5-acre site between Hillman and Carnegie libraries, is one step closer to being transformed from a 238-space surface parking lot into a public parklet with pedestrian paths, gardens, and concert, lounging and eating areas.

The plaza redesign is a project of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in partnership with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, of which Pitt is a member, as well as the mayor’s office and the Department of City Planning.

Other stakeholders include Oakland community groups, such as the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. and the Oakland Business Improvement District, among others.

Boston architects Sasaki Associates, hired by the Parks Conservancy, unveiled preliminary designs for the plaza at a public meeting last week at The Carnegie.

According to John Wilds, Pitt’s director of community and governmental relations, the $5 million conversion is modeled after Manhattan’s Bryant Park, one of that area’s most popular public gathering spots.

Wilds told the Senate community relations committee this week that the Allegheny Conference and the city of Pittsburgh were focusing improvement strategies on Oakland, specifically “how to transform this plaza from a parking lot into a functional space used for multiple events, such as concerts, and for being an attractive meeting spot to draw people into the area.”

The biggest concern, Wilds said, is the elimination of the existing 238 parking spaces, although the plan calls for adding 90 short-term, metered parking spots on the plaza’s reconfigured perimeter. That new perimeter may include some additional spaces on Forbes Avenue between Bigelow Boulevard and South Bellefield Avenue, he said.

Building an underground parking lot in the area was rejected as an option “because it was shown to be cost-prohibitive,” Wilds said. “There were some other considerations discussed at last week’s meeting, including which trees to preserve,” he said. The new design likely would mean new traffic patterns including two-way traffic on the plaza’s side streets.

Wilds said the plaza project has widespread backing, but that the city’s commitment to pay for infrastructure changes, such as reconfiguring the roads and installing new traffic signals (an estimated $1 million) is problematic because of the city’s current budget crisis.

As for the balance of the $5 million project’s funding, Wilds said, “Pitt is committed to raising money, with others in the Allegheny Conference,” which includes UPMC Health System, Carnegie Mellon, the Carnegie Museums and Carnegie Library, the R.K. Mellon Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Some commonwealth backing also will be sought, Wilds said. “But right now, as far as I know, talk of how much funding and how we’re going to raise it is preliminary.”

Another public meeting on the plans for Schenley Plaza is scheduled for Sept. 30 at 5:30 p.m. at The Carnegie Museum of Art Theater.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 36 Issue 2

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