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Panel sets sights on revitalization of Point State Park

New vision to focus on history, recreation at Pittsburgh’s signature park

Saturday, March 31, 2001

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Almost 27 years after the dedication of Point State Park, civic leaders and park stakeholders are coming together to create a new vision for the green triangle of land shaped by the confluence of Pittsburgh’s rivers.

About 30 members of the Point State Park revitalization committee — a group so new it doesn’t yet have an official name — met yesterday for the first time to talk about how the park might become more friendly to active recreation and more mindful of its history.

The committee is a joint project of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development — the 57-year-old public policy group that created the park — and the Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force, formed in 1999 to shape a bold vision for the city’s waterfront.

Conceived as a quiet oasis, the state-owned, city-maintained park has been criticized in recent years for being too quiet — for permitting walking and jogging but outlawing activities like bicycle-riding and in-line skating. At other times, the “quiet oasis” becomes a sea of bodies, and the city’s front lawn gets more use, and more wear and tear, than its designers anticipated, with large festival and fireworks crowds quickly turning its grass to dirt or mud.

And while a newly expanded Fort Pitt Museum will reopen in the park in June, some believe the park hasn’t made the most of its colonial military history, especially in light of the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War in 2004.

With no comprehensive plan for the park, ideas tumbled into the vacuum.

Last summer, Mayor Tom Murphy suggested rebuilding Fort Duquesne as an attraction — a possibility that’s being investigated by the Fort Duquesne Commission, led by former county Commissioner Bob Cranmer.

In the fall, the Riverlife Task Force’s consulting landscape architect, Hargreaves Associates, suggested establishing a gateway to the park and a new, more direct entrance, with a pedestrian bridge over the sunken wall of Fort Pitt.

And just this week, a group called the Point State Park Garden Committee revealed it has been working for seven years to create a Peace Garden in the park — and has secured the state and local approvals to do it.

For now, though, all those ideas are on hold while the revitalization committee comes up with an overarching plan.

“There are several wonderful projects that have been proposed but they should be considered in the light of a comprehensive vision for the park that we can all buy into,” said committee Chairman Jim Broadhurst, an Allegheny Conference member and chairman of Eat ‘n Park Restaurants.

Broadhurst said the park effort dovetails with the conference’s mission to improve the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania and with its recently completed long-range plan to enhance the area’s amenities.

Commissioning a planning and programming study for Point State Park was one of the Riverlife Task Force’s recommendations last fall.

Both the Fort Duquesne and Peace Garden groups are represented on the committee, which also includes local history museums, foundations, city and state government and others.

“I think we have an extraordinary opportunity right now” to make the park the centerpiece of the new development along the riverfront, Mayor Murphy told the group.

“It should become a real statement for this region.”

But what kind of statement?

Citing the “long-standing disagreement on the use of the park,” Murphy told the committee members they first have to determine a philosophy of use.

“Is it going to be a dynamic park or a passive park?”

Barry Hannegan, director of historic design programs for Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, was invited to brief the group on the history of the park’s design. Landscape architect Ralph Griswold, the park’s designer, envisioned it as “the calm eye in the center of the city,” Hannegan said, and used only plants that would have been there in colonial times.

“We should keep in mind that we’re working with an extraordinary continuum of history and affection.”

Broadhurst said the committee will look at ways to better interpret the park’s history, increase recreational opportunities and visitor amenities, develop design standards and create a management system. It also will determine whether the park should continue to host large community gatherings.

But the committee won’t be working alone.

Like the Riverlife Task Force’s plan for the riverfronts, the Point State Park plan will be shaped through a public participation process.

“We’ll either do a [design] charrette or a community brainstorming, and on a fairly aggressive timeline,” said Riverlife Task Force Director Davitt Woodwell.

In the next few months, the committee will create a schedule, budget and a request for qualifications from firms interested in studying the park’s existing uses and future possibilities. The firm also would direct the public process and shape the final plan, to be completed by summer 2002.

Although the entire cost of the plan is not yet known, John Oliver, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has pledged $50,000 to develop it, with the committee working to raise more from local foundations.

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

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