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Future plan for Point discussed at workshop

Sunday, June 03, 2001

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Jim Schmitt got right to the point.

“The Point looks like an overgrazed cow pasture,” said Schmitt, who represented recreational power boaters at yesterday’s Point State Park Planning Charrette.

The daylong, invitation-only design workshop was an opportunity for Pittsburgh landscape architects, architects, historians, park constituents and interested others to weigh in on how the heavily used, 37-acre park should evolve over the next 30 years. It’s the first step in a community-wide process to develop an overall vision and long-range plan for the park.

At the end of the day, while most of the 60-some people attending wanted to see some changes, they agreed the overgrazed pasture holds a few sacred cows.

The Fort Pitt Museum, Blockhouse, fountain and axial view through the park to the Ohio River are seen as untouchables, places and spaces that should be protected and preserved. In fact, the group largely endorsed the park’s original design, character and mission.

But what was conceived as a quiet oasis in the city has evolved into a highly trafficked and trampled venue for concerts, festivals, marathons and other events that help attract the park’s 1.75 million visitors a year.

“The park was not designed to accommodate that activity,” said John Sharrar, regional park manager for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The Point cannot be all things to all people.”

The state, which owns the park, will pay the city $376,000 to maintain it this year. About half of that money comes from revenue generated by the parking lot at its southern edge, along Commonwealth Place.

“We’re very interested in keeping that lot and maybe adding another level or two on top of that,” Sharrar said.

Mike Gable, the city’s assistant director of Public Works, said the park is reseeded and resodded six to 10 times a year.

“We need to give rest periods in the park,” Gable said.

While there was talk of finding ways to move some large events out of the park—- perhaps by relocating them to a suitably designed new space on the North Shore– the group isn’t endorsing the removal of all park events that attract large crowds. For now, it wants to determine how many people the park can accommodate without adverse impact.

There also was a desire to increase amenities for and enhance the experience of individual park users, whether they’re Downtown office workers walking off their lunches or families looking for weekend recreation.

And the group wants to find a way to accommodate not only walkers and runners, but also those who prefer currently verboten activities like biking and rollerblading.

Sharrar and Gable were among 17 speakers who addressed the group earlier in the day, presenting information about the park’s history, design history and maintenance, as well as existing plans for the park, which was 30 years in the making.

“I think there can be some changes,” said landscape architect Bill Mullin of GWSM, who worked on the $18-million park’s creation from 1958 to 1974, the year it was completed.

One opportunity for change is along the park’s edge, which could be softened and made more interesting–and more attractive to small aquatic species like crayfish–with nooks and crannies.

Although former Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer spoke about the recreation of Fort Duquesne — an idea he said was hatched on a canoe trip he and Mayor Tom Murphy took down French Creek — there was consensus that rebuilding the fort would interrupt the long view through the park and focus too much on one period of history. The group favored interpreting all of the layers of park history, from its geological formation through the present day.

There was also talk of introducing food vendors, boat tie-ups and maps for walkers and runners; of sculpture integrated with land forms and better connections to the north and south shores; and of removing or replacing the existing, eyesore band shelter.

The charrette, held Downtown at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, was sponsored by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force, Pittsburgh chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

Over the next few weeks, a summary of the charrette’s dialogue will be created and distributed to those who attended. It will be used to shape a request for proposals from design firms, who likely will partner with historians and others to forge a new plan for the park.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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