City officials hope Plan C will lure developers-Mayor says latest effort depends upon cooperation
By Elizabeth Barczak
In the wake of the flood of protest over plans to raze and revamp part of Downtown Pittsburgh, a fresh attempt is turning the torrent toward a path of lesser resistance.
Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy finds himself wooing Downtown business leaders in his attempt to create a Plan C that meets his goal of making Downtown a destination for developers and suburban shoppers.
Plan C is said to stand for compromise as Murphy tries to mesh his vision with the demands of Downtown business owners and pervasive preservationists.
The future of the Fifth and Forbes corridor hangs in the balance as the Plan C task force strives to reach a consensus. The 15-member task force, which includes business leaders and local officials, is expected to make its recommendations to the mayor’s office this month.
After years of controversy over the fate of Fifth and Forbes, the task force’s recommendations could have a profound effect on the future of Downtown.
“I think in two years, maybe in one year, Fifth and Forbes will look different than it does today, and I think Downtown will continue to evolve,” said director of operations at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
“There’s a clear indication and a clear understanding that something should happen quickly … a sort of a shoe leather hitting the street, so to speak,” McCollom said. “The idea is don’t rehash, don’t redo, don’t reinvent the wheel but move forward with the task at hand.”
McCollom opposed plans to raze Downtown buildings to make way for national retailers.
Murphy’s initial $522 million proposal called for the demolition of 62 Downtown properties to make way for new development. That plan died in November after upscale retailer Nordstrom Inc. pulled the plug on plans to anchor the project.
A second proposal harkened back to an earlier era with a Main Street approach that preserved many smaller businesses.
Now, Plan C holds the promise of merging the ideas into one cohesive plan.
“Any plan has to be one that moves with market forces … kind of an evolving plan, a living breathing plan,” McCollom said. “In our opinion, it is very difficult and risky to force the market by plopping this plan down in the middle of Downtown.”
The risks involved include investing millions of public dollars into a plan with an unknown return as well as alienating long-standing business owners.
Jeff Joyce, a Plan C task force member, called for a broad plan that reaches beyond Fifth and Forbes. Joyce is the president of the Market Square Association and owner of the 1902 Landmark Tavern.
“If we do the center of the city right, that will bring more investment and continued investment in housing so the business district will be able to grow from there,” he said.
Joyce said many of his customers recognize the need to revitalize Downtown.
“Everyone realizes that the Fifth and Forbes corridor needs change,” Joyce said. “The majority are for dramatic change, radical change.”
Joyce supported the mayor’s original plan but now is committed to working toward a compromise.
“The issues are the same – housing, parking and public transportation. All of these things need to be improved upon,” Joyce said. “I think there is still enough momentum left over from the first plan to build upon.”
Joyce said he expects a plan to be in place within a year with implementation over the next few years.
The question remains if the diverse task force will be able to reach a consensus and whether the mayor will accept its recommendations. Murphy said he would withhold judgment on the task force’s effectiveness until the recommendations are made.
“If the Plan C task force is not able to come up with a working plan and reach a consensus, then I think that the momentum will probably die over the next few months,” Joyce said.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. © Tribune Review