Artistic walkway may get federal funding

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The long-awaited walkway that was proposed to connect Centre and Fifth avenues alongside the Consol Energy Center may get most of the funding it needs with passage of a U.S. Senate transportation bill that would earmark $974,000 for it.

Curtain Call, a meandering walkway that would include rain gardens and art space, was approved by the city's planning commission last year but not funded.

Earlier this summer, Mary Conturo, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, said Curtain Call "was never part of the building budget. We are in the process of applying to foundations and looking for sponsorships" to raise money for it.

Larry Smar, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, said the bill could be voted on as early as this month or as late as early next year.

The expected price tag for the art walkway is $1.5 million. The federal money, which must be used for transportation projects, could be redirected from a more long-term and expensive project -- a park that would cap a sunken portion of Interstate 579, said Rob Stephany, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

"There were three projects we felt were important public-realm connection pieces," he said. The park over I-579 "is an inspirational and great idea" but one that should be put on the back burner until the Civic Arena's fate is known, he said.

The other two are the Curtain Call and infrastructure and street-face improvements on the side of Fifth Avenue facing the Penguins' new arena, he said, adding that those two should go first.

Curtain Call, in a design by landscape architect Walter Hood of Oakland, Calif., is a walkway of steps amid rain gardens and recesses wrapped in three-dimensional "curtains" of glass tile, each block holding a polyvinyl image of Hill District denizens, past and present.

Pedestrians will have four curved terraces to turn into from the stair path. The lower terrace will be accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Mr. Stephany said that making the street patterns as connective as possible is crucial to the success of the area becoming an arena-university neighborhood.

The options will be either "leaving the arena and going home or turning left down this neat narrative and ending up on Fifth Avenue" for a bite to eat, he said.

"The Penguins put dollars on the table to help plan the public art project and have graded and planned for it to be accommodated and are willing to give an easement so it can be a public right of way," said Mr. Stephany.

"This piece of money is the key to pulling the trigger on this thing."

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at


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