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Mayor tours Market Square, cites improvements

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, September 06, 2007
By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Like countless politicians before him, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl ventured into the Original Oyster House in Market Square yesterday, but not for the fish sandwich or the political glad-handing usually served with it.

Instead, the stop was part of a lunchtime walking tour during which Mr. Ravenstahl talked to merchants, shook hands with diners and pedestrians, and assessed progress in making the city’s oldest public square more visitor friendly.

The mayor said he was pleased with what he saw, from the square’s cleaner look to more people using it.

He attributed the improvement in part to a concerted effort by the city to beef up police presence and to crack down on illicit activity, including drug dealing, in the square.

“It was neglected for a period of time. The criminal element and the negative element felt comfortable here. We’re trying to move that out and trying to make this a priority,” he said.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership also has spearheaded improvements, purchasing 75 tables and 200 chairs to help restaurants expand their outdoor dining. Some of those dining areas have been extended into the street to provide more room.

In addition, the partnership also has added a farmers market and concerts on Thursdays to generate more activity. Trees have been pruned to open up the square and create more light. This fall, propane heating lamps will be added to allow for continued outdoor dining.

The mayor said he sees “good progress” in efforts to transform the square into a destination for visitors and residents alike.

“We’re really trying to bring the ‘market’ back to Market Square and I think our short-term success is evident and what we need to do is to continue that in order to have long-term achievement,” he said.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the city wants to build off the momentum created by the construction of the Three PNC Plaza skyscraper on Fifth Avenue and the redevelopment of the G.C. Murphy Building that abuts the square to create a more dynamic area.

He also said an experiment to remove buses from Market Square this summer has been successful for the most part and likely would become permanent.

The Port Authority has said that it is anticipating that buses would be removed permanently next spring or summer.

Several merchants told Mr. Ravenstahl that the improvements represented a good start after years of neglect.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Rick Faust, the Oyster House general manager. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but the people have felt more safe in Market Square than they have in years past.”

He said the added police presence, the Thursday events and the rerouting of the buses from the square have helped business.

“The police presence down here has been more than adequate. There’s always room for more,” he said.

Mr. Faust added he would like to see the square promoted more as a destination and to become more a focal point for events.

Another merchant, Ron Gargani, half-owner of the Buon Giorno Cafe, said he is planning $450,000 to $550,000 in improvements to his property, including restoring the building facade to its original 1918 look, in anticipation of the redevelopment Downtown.

“I feel it’s going to happen. The future is now,” he said.

He said the move of the Arts Festival from Point State Park and the Thursday events in the square increased his business by 40 percent this summer.

Washington County developer Millcraft Industries is expected to start construction on the G.C. Murphy redevelopment before the end of the year. The building will house the new home for the Downtown YMCA, 30,000 square feet of retail space, and 46 apartments.

First published on September 6, 2007 at 12:00 am
Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262.

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