Study: Pittsburgh's network of riverfront parks contributes to boom in development
May 7, 2015 12:15 AM
Graffiti can be seen on the walls near the river walk under the Fort Duquesne bridge ramp. The area is targeted for some upgrading this summer with plans for a public art installation.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh’s riverfront parks system is not only a haven for rest, relaxation and recreation but an economic powerhouse that has helped to generate billions of dollars in development over the past 15 years, a study has found.
In that time, the $130 million invested in the 13-mile Three Rivers Park has helped to produce nearly $4.1 billion in development on and near the riverfront, according to the study by Sasaki Associates, a Massachusetts-based architectural and planning firm.
In addition, the study, commissioned by Riverlife and to be released today, determined that since 2001, property values along that stretch have jumped by 60 percent compared with 32 percent in the rest of the city.
“The pattern in Pittsburgh and in other cities across the country is clear: properties with close proximity to high quality park infrastructure increase in value more than properties that do not,” the report stated.
Three Rivers Park is the name Riverlife uses for a network that includes Point State Park, the North Shore riverfront park, the Monongahela Wharf, South Shore riverfront park at SouthSide Works, Station Square, and the Rivers Casino promenade.
Jay Sukernek, Riverlife’s acting director, said he plans to use the findings in testifying before the Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee today in favor of legislation that would provide up to $10 million in tax credits each year for those who contribute to waterfront improvement projects throughout the state.
“[The report] makes the case that what has happened in Pittsburgh is now quantifiable and that there are other communities in the commonwealth that can benefit from improvements,” he said.
The Sasaki report analyzed the relationship between public realm investment and redevelopment in Boston, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., before focusing on Pittsburgh to determine how much development activity occurred “within close proximity to the riverfront” as a result of parks investments over 15 years.
Overall, it found that the $130 million invested in Three Rivers Park over that time helped to spur nearly $2.6 billion in riverfront development activity and nearly $4.1 billion when adjacent development was taken into account.
Included in the totals were major projects like Heinz Field, PNC Park, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the casino.
Perhaps even more significant was the finding that since 2001, property values on average increased 60 percent in the immediate vicinity of the parks — the “riverfront zone of influence” — compared with 32 percent outside of it.
The biggest jump occurred on the South Side, where values soared by 117 percent near the South Shore Park and SouthSide Works. Over the same period, they jumped by 65 percent on the North Shore and 25 percent in Downtown, the report stated.
“The investments in public open space and public amenities are what make these places special,” Mr. Sukernek said.
Such findings could bode well for potential riverfront development in the Strip District and in Hazelwood, site of the former LTV Coke Works.
According to the report, a $50 million investment in Strip riverfront improvements on 15 acres stretching from 11th Street to 31st Street could generate an estimated $6.8 million to $15.6 million in annual tax revenue.
That, the report said, would more than offset the estimated $3.3 million annual debt service payment required of the city to finance the work. The area includes major riverfront redevelopments planned by Oxford Development and the Buncher Co.
Mr. Sukernek said Riverlife is not counting on the public sector to fund all of the riverfront improvements in the Strip or elsewhere in the city. He said the work likely would require a mix of public and private resources as well as “external value capture” measures like tax increment financing.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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