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Plan to upgrade Pittsburgh retail unveiled

By Wes Crosby
On November 29, 2012

  • Construction of the new 33-story skyscraper, the Tower at PNC Plaza, on Wood Street continues on Nov. 27. The area surrounding the site is one of the proposed areas to receive renovations in the Downtown Action Strategy plan. Fred Blauth/Photo Editor

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced millions of dollars in improvements, including new bike lanes and improved street lights, Nov. 14 as part of a three-year action plan intended to boost Downtown's retail corridor.

In cooperation with the Downtown Retail Task Force, convened by Ravenstahl in January, Ravenstahl unveiled the Downtown Action Strategy plan, which aims to use $18 million to $20 million in upgrades to turn the neighborhood into a "24/7 destination."

The report outlines strategies to entice retailers to move businesses into Downtown, including expanding districts surrounding the Cultural District, developing transportation alternatives such as taxi initiatives and bike share programs and attempting to coordinate building code requirements with existing buildings' upper floor redevelopment.

The group of 36 business owners, developers and city officials that make up the task force is also recommending the implementation of a Downtown retailer's association which will attempt to draw local businesses into the city.

The report does not name any targeted retailers.

At the Nov. 14 press conference, Ravenstahl said he believes the plan will be successful in attracting retailers.

"By sitting down with Downtown's dedicated stakeholders, we have identified key strategies that will help our City's Golden Triangle continue to grow and thrive by attracting even more retailers and shoppers to enjoy all that Downtown has to offer," Ravenstahl said.

Joanna Doven, Ravenstahl's press secretary, said she thinks the plan would entice Duquesne students to spend more time Downtown.

"People want to go where it's walkable," Doven said. "Obviously, places like Market Square are in walking distance for Point Park, but with further developments it is becoming that same way for Duquesne University."

The report targets Forbes Avenue, Smithfield Street and Wood Street - all located within the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor - for most of the redevelopment. All three streets would receive façade improvements, improved lights and street trees, expanded sidewalks and the addition of banners touting the slogan "Get Downtown."

None of the upgrades are included in Ravenstahl's latest $65.7 million capital budget.

On Forbes, a new seat wall near Grant Street that would separate the sidewalk from a parking garage has been proposed. The task force is also envisioning turning part of the avenue into a bike lane on the north side of Forbes, which the report says connects Duquesne's 3,500 resident students to "the heart of Downtown retail."

The task force also has said that the relocation of Point Park University's Playhouse from Oakland to lower Forbes near Wood would draw more attention to Smithfield.

"We've learned from success stories like Market Square and others that when we provide a welcoming environment, the foot traffic will follow and so, of course, will the investment," Ravenstahl said.

Proposed enhancements to Wood include outdoor seating and masonry repair which the report says "can greatly improve the overall aesthetic and sense of place for Wood Street," part of which will be occupied by the new $400 million glass skyscraper being built by PNC Financial Services Group.

Point Park University was also detailed in the report for further improving its Academic Village by renovating on-campus buildings, creating "wonderful spaces along Wood Street."

Paul Henigan, Point Park's president, said that the university has benefited from its location.

"Our unique location in the City's center enriches the academic experience by connecting our students and graduates with internships, jobs, entertainment, arts and culture," Henigan said at the Nov.14 press conference.

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