Point State Park renovation to displace big events

Arts Festival, Regatta, fireworks, Dollar Bank Jamboree to be shut out

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A multimillion-dollar renovation of Point State Park will begin this fall and continue into next year, making the park off-limits to major events including the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta/July Fourth fireworks and Dollar Bank Jamboree.

In a letter Monday to event organizers, John W. Norbeck, director of the Bureau of State Parks, said: "No events will be able to take place within the park for the 2007 season."

He said the state would work with the city, Allegheny County and the Riverlife Task Force to "make this temporary relocation as smooth as possible for you."

While plans for a major renovation of the park have been in the works for years, news of the closing came as a surprise to some event organizers.

"We actually were just told about this for the first time [Monday] morning," said Elizabeth Reiss, arts festival executive director. She said the festival board expects to decide in the next two months how to proceed.

"We will do everything we can to present a Downtown event next year," Ms. Reiss said, noting that the decision will be based on finances.

"This is a challenge for us," said Robert Petrilli, chairman of the regatta board. He said regatta officials have begun to study options for next year's event, but he was not prepared to divulge them yesterday.

"We want to remain open-minded and look at the options -- find new ways to collaborate on continuing such a great community event next year and bring it back to Point State Park in 2008," he said.

Gretchen Leslie, spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which is overseeing the project, said it would bring "major improvements to the park that are desperately needed."

The $4.6 million project is concentrated on a four-acre section of the park between Downtown and the portal bridge. It calls for new irrigation, drainage and electrical systems; restored pathways that are handicapped accessible; new landscaping, benches, lighting and signs; vendor hookups; and wireless Internet capability.

The stage on the opposite side of the portal bridge will be torn down and replaced with a "stage pad" in the corner of the park across from the Hilton Pittsburgh hotel, said Lisa Schroeder, executive director of the Riverlife Task Force, a public-private group formed in 2000 to advocate for redevelopment along Pittsburgh's rivers.

Stages erected on the pad will face away from the hotel and nearby residential buildings to reduce the noise impact, she said.

The 8-foot-deep trench surrounding the park's reconstructed Music Bastion, which simulates the original walls of Fort Pitt, will be filled in to make that section of park more accommodating to festivals and events.

State officials had hoped to have the work finished before next season's events, but bids submitted in May were over budget.

"After talking with several of the companies who bid on the job, we have learned that one of the main reasons for the high bids was the restriction of time that was placed on the contractors to finish construction," Mr. Norbeck told event organizers.

Ms. Schroeder said the new round of construction bids will be opened late this month. After that, officials will have a better idea of how the work will affect day-to-day park usage. She said "every effort" would be made to preserve public access to the Fort Pitt Museum, rivers' edges and fountain.

"We hope the community will see this as terrific news that we have a long-awaited improvement project under way," she said. The work this fall is the first of three phases of improvements contemplated for the 36-acre park, which was completed in 1974 as the centerpiece of the Downtown Renaissance.

The second phase will restore the park grounds to the west of the portal bridge, while the third will focus on the fountain and rivers' edges, Ms. Schroeder said.

Some event organizers said yesterday that they were warned that the first phase of construction might keep the park closed to major events in 2008 as well, but Ms. Schroeder said she had "no information that the project would extend beyond one event season."

Jon Schmitz can be reached at jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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