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Task force backs eminent domain

By Dave Copeland
Friday, March 8, 2002

A blueprint to redevelop much of Downtown, unveiled Thursday, calls on Mayor Tom Murphy to abandon his pledge not to use eminent domain.
The Plan C Task Force development strategy proposes a $360 million overhaul of Fifth-Forbes, including a hotel tucked between Market Square and Liberty Avenue, and retail, housing, office and entertainment space. Financing for the plan would include $51.5 million in public money, $39.5 million from corporate and philanthropic investment and $264 million in private investment.

Highlights of the plan:

A 600-room hotel with 100 luxury condominiums on top of the hotel tower.

Up to 580 market-rate apartments.

A “shopping experience” in an open-space market to be built in the G.C. Murphy building, similar to Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Formed to build consensus on redevelopment proposals for the Fifth-Forbes corridor, the task force could not reach a consensus on eminent domain — a major sticking point in Murphy’s original plan. Some task force members continue to oppose its use. The report did not say which members favored using eminent domain, or how much of a majority of the 13-member body endorsed it.

In a written statement, Murphy said he would take the committee’s report under review. He did not mention eminent domain.

The task force was formed in November 2000 after Murphy’s redevelopment plan fell apart. The plan called for the demolition of up to 62 buildings, one reason historic preservationists criticized it.

Cathy McCollom, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and a member of the task force, said the Plan C proposal was similar to a plan the foundation put together in 1999 as an alternative to Murphy’s plan.

Like the foundation plan, the Plan C proposal calls for more preservation of historic buildings and facades and has a strong housing component.

“The mayor’s plan was a demolition plan, but in this plan, a lot more buildings are retained,” McCollom said. “We’re pleased that preservation has remained a significant issue.”

Unlike Murphy’s original plan, the Plan C proposal includes residential and hotel components designed to bring more people who would support more businesses Downtown. The report notes that the strategy looks to combine local and national retailers.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group that fights eminent domain, announced it would hold a news conference in Pittsburgh this morning. Scott Bullock, a senior attorney with the institute, said the group would make the same pledge it made during the debate over Murphy’s first plan: to defend Downtown property owners against eminent domain abuse.

“We are, of course, extremely disappointed that the task force has made the recommendation to use eminent domain,” Bullock said.

Bernie Lynch, a task force member who does not want to use eminent domain, originally called the institute to Pittsburgh. Lynch declined comment yesterday.

An e-mail sent by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership Executive Director Mariann Geyer to partnership board members said that she had been told it could be several days or weeks before the mayor comments on the plan.

Geyer said in the memo that the partnership would work to implement the plan but would not take a stand on eminent domain because it “is not a decision for the PDP to make.”

If Murphy accepts the redevelopment strategy, the next step would be to issue a request for proposals to interested developers.

Any plan would need to be approved by several city bodies, including the planning commission, the Historic Review Commission, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and, finally, City Council.

Much of the report is based on the work of Don Hunter, an urban economist the task force hired last year. Yesterday’s release included a Feb. 26 memo from Hunter where he outlined 12 alternatives to eminent domain, while acknowledging he preferred using eminent domain as a course of last resort.

Hunter’s alternatives included negotiated sales, land swaps, leasing arrangements and partnerships.

Dave Copeland can be reached at or (412) 320-7922.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633