Mayor Bob O'Connor's effort to chart a new course for the run-down Fifth and Forbes corridor Downtown takes another turn next week. But you'll need an invitation to take part.
Under contract with the city, the Urban Design Associates architectural firm will hold brainstorming sessions next Friday and Saturday with major Downtown stakeholders to help develop a "consensus plan" for the corridor. What emerges will address a range of issues, including which structures should be preserved, land use, traffic patterns and how building designs should mesh.
"It's a starting point for all parties to say this is the direction we want to take it," city Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Jerome Dettore said.
Mr. Dettore authorized UDA to start work on the effort two weeks ago. The URA board yesterday ratified a $40,000 payment to the company as its share of the contract. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will pick up the other half.
As part of its work, the architectural firm is reviewing previous plans and studies relating to the corridor, including some of the ambitious development proposals advanced under former Mayor Tom Murphy.
The next step will be the brainstorming sessions, which will not be open to the public or the media.
Instead, about 75 people will be attending by invitation. Mr. Dettore said the list includes Downtown merchants, residents, preservation groups, public agencies and critics of previous plans or people who felt they were shut out of discussions in the past.
While Mr. Murphy came under fire for not being inclusive enough in his planning for the Fifth and Forbes corridor, Mr. Dettore does not believe that will be a problem this time around.
"I think every base has been covered," he said.
Dick Skrinjar, Mr. O'Connor's spokesman, said the mayor's office saw no need to open the meetings to the public because of all the past plans and studies that exist.
"We're not starting from ground zero. If you were at ground zero, you would do something like that. We have a stack of documents and a lot of input from previous meetings," he said.
He added Mr. O'Connor would share the results of the effort with the public.
One who would have liked to share his thoughts is John Gallaher, 73, of South Fayette, who wants to see a partial restoration of the Diamond Market, torn down 46 years ago, in Market Square. His father once owned a flower shop there, and he remembers it as a vibrant, inviting cauldron of sights, smells and commerce.
Told he wouldn't be able to present his idea to the people shaping the future of Downtown, Mr. Gallaher was miffed. "Who is this planning group?" he asked. "It's just a bunch of architects putting forth their ideas of what they think should be there."