Preserve historic structures, city development plan urges

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Pittsburgh should provide incentives for rehabilitation of historic structures, make preservation an important component of neighborhood planning, nominate additional properties to the National Register of Historic Places and nurture renewed appreciation for the city's cultural heritage, according to a preliminary plan aimed at keeping vestiges of the city's history from slipping away.

The draft plan, released Tuesday and subject to public comment, seeks to better balance development and preservation. It says the city, which has managed to maintain the ethnic flavor of many of its 90 or so neighborhoods, should do far more to keep its relics from falling and being knocked down.

In all, the draft makes about 70 recommendations for identifying, documenting and preserving historic buildings and infrastructure. It makes clear that preservation is the joint responsibility of city officials, professional preservationists, developers, homeowners and other groups.

Preservation is one part of the city's 25-year, still-in-development comprehensive plan being overseen by the city planning department. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl considers preservation and transportation to be the comprehensive plan's most urgent components, his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said.

"I think it is a well-put-together plan," said Ernie Hogan, executive director of Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, one of the organizations that provided input. "I think it starts to raise awareness and get us on a pathway to truly understanding and respecting our cultural assets."

The plan may be viewed at www.planpgh.com/preservepgh. Public feedback will be accepted online through June 19. Residents also may comment at hearings scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. June 4 at the Grand Hall at The Priory on the North Side, June 5 at the Brew House on the South Side, June 13 at Bakery Square in Shadyside and June 14 at Village Tavern and Trattoria in the West End.

In addition, city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle has scheduled a post-agenda meeting on the plan for 1 p.m. next Tuesday. Mr. Lavelle said the plan must respect and provide guidance to preservation efforts already under way in various neighborhoods.

"Preservation of cultural and historic assets is a critical issue because these resources broadly contribute to the city's character. They make neighborhoods places where people want to live, work, invest, learn and spend their time," says the draft, which notes the city's ties to the French and Indian War, immigration history and industrialization.

The draft says an inventory of historic properties should continue, with particular attention paid to properties built after 1940 and eligible for historic designation by the city or nomination to the National Register. Mr. Hogan said properties from that era now are becoming more historically important.

It says the inventory should be available online and in neighborhood libraries. If a building in the inventory is to be demolished, the plan says, the structure should be photographed and images included in the database.

But the plan seeks to prevent buildings from being demolished. It calls for offering property owners financial incentives to renovate, maintain and preserve historic properties.

Now, Mr. Hogan said, federal tax credits are available for renovation of historic properties. He said he would like to expand the availability, partially with a home purchase/renovation program he's trying to arrange with help of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority.

"We're not ready to announce it yet," he said.

The plan says preservation and demolition should be complementary processes in neighborhood revitalization. "The problem with historic preservation in Pittsburgh is that there are monies for demolitions but yet none available for stabilization," city planning director Noor Ismail said in an email.

The city has budgeted about $3.3 million for demolitions this year. Mr. Hogan said he would like to see some of the demolition budget diverted to preservation efforts.

The draft plan also encourages renewed interest in the city's heritage. It said the city could put up signs pointing the way to historic districts, encourage walking and bicycling tours and promote historical and ethnic celebrations.

Dan Holland, founder and CEO of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh, said preservation efforts should include a broad swath of the city's population. Mr. Holland said he's pleased that the city decided to undertake the plan, which he called "a long time coming."

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published May 23, 2012 12:00 AM


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