Plan for face lift of Downtown's shopping district emerging

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor detailed his timetable for redeveloping Downtown's shopping district yesterday, and said he is even casting about for a new name for the dowdy corridor.

His comments came shortly after a meeting in his office with James S. Bennett, a top executive at Washington, D.C.-based developer Madison Marquette. Under former Mayor Tom Murphy, the developer had floated a $50 million to $60 million Downtown revamp, which relied on $24 million in state and local subsidies.

After taking office Jan. 3, Mr. O'Connor opened the door to other concepts. Local developers Millcraft Industries Inc. and Ralph Falbo, both of which are building Downtown, have said they'd like to get pieces of the retail revamp.

That has led to talk that Madison Marquette might pull out. The mayor said that hasn't happened.

"They seem very interested in Pittsburgh," he said. "By being here [for the meeting], I think they want to be involved in discussions on the process.

"They're probably looking at something more realistic" than their original concept, he said, adding that any new plan would involve "a more modest subsidy."

A Madison Marquette spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Bennett's "message to us was that they're very interested in doing something Downtown, and in the vision the mayor has," said city Chief of Staff B.J. Leber.

That vision, which seems to involve a mix of stores, housing and a high "wow" factor, will jell into a process over the next week or 10 days. During that time, the mayor plans to work with the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and developers to chart a path by which a consensus Downtown plan can be reached.

"We will be building a comprehensive effort," he said. An early step will be understanding how Market Square, the Cultural District, and the Fifth and Forbes corridor interact, architecturally and economically.

The O'Connor administration plans to have a plan in place by midyear.

"That's a master plan. That doesn't mean announcing retailers," said Ms. Leber.

There's also an administration-wide effort to find a new moniker for the Fifth and Forbes corridor. That name still carries a stigma from the political battles surrounding Mr. Murphy's failed $500 million raze-and-rebuild plan, officials say.

The mayor said early ideas for a new name include the Fifth Avenue District, the Fifth and Market District, or the Market Square District.

Last week the mayor formally claimed the lead role in Downtown development. It had previously been spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Task Force, an ad hoc group led by Mike Edwards, chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Mr. Edwards could not be reached for comment.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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