East Liberty lost 300 businesses in the early 1960s, starting with the neighborhood's initial decline. But the city's effort to stop the bleeding was actually the coup de grace -- Penn Circle.
It was designed to ring a pedestrian mall that theoretically would have competed for attention with the suburban malls that were drawing people away from the city. But it proved to be a one-way choke hold to the inner core businesses that had hung on.
East Liberty has seen a reversal of fortune in the last 15 years and has businesses lining up to get in. Last week the city brought back the circle's original street names. The work was completed Thursday.
Penn Circle South and East and Collins Street south of East Liberty Boulevard will become part of Centre Avenue. Penn Circle North will join Station Street, extending it several blocks. Penn Circle West will become part of North and South Euclid avenues.
City council last year approved the change so that addresses for new businesses could be added without duplications. City planner Justin Miller said there have been duplications and confusion because of four Penn Circle directions besides Penn Avenue. The section of Collins being absorbed by Centre had half the addresses the city is trying to phase out.
"We're seeing a lot of development and needed to come up with a handful of new addresses," he said, adding that a return to the original street grid and names was a priority in the East Liberty neighborhood plan. "It seemed like an opportune time rather than give new developments old addresses that we'd have to correct later."
The process of returning the grid to East Liberty started a decade ago, when Penn Avenue was converted back to a two-way street going through East Liberty, connecting with the two-way of Penn through Garfield, Shadyside and Larimer. Two years ago, Penn Circle South and East were reconverted to two-way traffic in part to enhance access to the new Target store.
Mr. Miller said street sign conversion costs a "fairly minimal" $13,000 because they were made in the public works sign shop. The city is contracting for installation of signs on mast arms associated with traffic signals.
Ninety buildings, mostly businesses and apartment complexes, will be affected by the address changes and were notified at the start of the month.
The city expects "within a few years" to return two-way traffic to the streets replacing Penn Circle West and North -- Station Street and Euclid, Mr. Miller said.
"From talking to people on the streets, from phone calls, comments to business owners and on social media, this has been received positively," said Loralyn Fabian, planning coordinator for East Liberty Development Inc. "In changing Penn Circle South to Centre, the business owners' only concern was that Google maps are quickly updated so customers could find them."
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.