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Murphy: City moving to tear down eyesores

By Tom Barnes,
Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Since last fall, the Murphy administration has reduced the number of vacant and condemned buildings in the city from 1,250 to about 800, but much still must be done to correct the problem of abandoned property, Mayor Tom Murphy said yesterday.

He said he hopes to either raze or rehabilitate the remaining 800 condemned structures over the next four years.

He spoke at a daylong Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation symposium on the problem the city faces from the years-long existence of empty, dilapidated properties and vacant lots.

Murphy said the city is using two main techniques to reduce the number of abandoned buildings, which can be in danger of collapsing, be used as hangouts by drug addicts or criminals and pose a visual blight on a neighborhood. He said the city is actively trying to demolish empty, dangerous structures while also working with neighborhood development groups to fix up those that are worth saving.

The city undertook an aggressive demolition program in Homewood last fall, razing 120 buildings at a cost of $700,000.

Landmarks President Arthur Ziegler urged that buildings be looked at for a second chance.

“We were concerned to learn of the city’s possible plan to demolish several thousand buildings,” he said. “We believe that in many cases, these buildings, although abandoned and often in poor condition, can still be community assets.”

To demolish some of these older buildings “is to lose architectural and economic assets,” Ziegler said.

By holding yesterday’s symposium, said Landmarks official Cathy McCollom, “We hope we can spur some discussion for a broader look at other solutions. Demolition should not be the only one.”

Yesterday’s conference was held at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland and attended by 250 community activists and housing officials. Speakers outlined some financial techniques, such as federal tax credits, that have been used here and in other cities to restore old, vacant structures.

Stanley Lowe, vice president of Landmarks and former director of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, estimated that there were as many as 12,000 vacant buildings in the city, a far greater number than the 1,250 that the city Bureau of Building Inspections last year had officially condemned.

“For the last 15 years, we’ve always had at least 1,500 buildings on the condemned list,” Murphy said. “We would tear 200 or 300 down and another 200 or 300 would go onto the condemned list. A house or a block of houses that are vacant and abandoned in a neighborhood just drags the whole neighborhood down.”

He is trying to be aggressive in removing such hazardous urban blight. But contrary to criticism from some historic preservationists, Murphy also said he’s willing to consult with community groups and City Council members to find which structures in a neighborhood are historically important and worth saving for reuse.

(Tom Barnes can be reached at or 412-263-1548.)

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

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