Ravenstahl unveils strategy to boost Downtown retail district

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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl unveiled a multi-faceted strategy this morning to boost the retail climate Downtown, including millions of dollars of improvements to Forbes Avenue and Smithfield and Wood streets, a new marketing campaign and creation of a retailers association.

In his remarks at a press conference, Mr. Ravenstahl said the goal of the strategy is to make Downtown a "vibrant 24/7 destination" filled with boutique districts and unique and large-scale retail. He said the infrastructure improvements are necessary to make shopping more inviting to visitors.

"Right now, some of our primary corridors in Downtown Pittsburgh do not provide the atmosphere that encourages people to walk around and to enjoy the quality of shopping and dining that's available. They're just not living up to the potential that we think they can realize," he said.

"We've learned from success stories like Market Square a few blocks away and others that when we provide a welcoming environment, the foot traffic will follow and so will the investment."

As first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the upgrades to Smithfield, Wood and Forbes include new trees and lights, new and expanded sidewalks, facade renovations, banners, bike racks and other improvements. There's also the potential for new bike lanes on Smithfield and Forbes.

While no specific cost estimate was included in today's report, the improvements are estimated at $18.5 million, with funding to be shared by public, private and civic sources. Mr. Ravenstahl said it is common for the city to fund streetscape improvements like new trees and sidewalks out of its capital budget. But he added the private sector also would be involved.

"The money, in our opinion, really isn't the issue. The issue is having that vision, finding out what the needs are, and then investing in those needs. To have all these retailers working together in a way they haven't before is important and a great step," he said.

The Downtown Retailers Association would help to foster cooperation and improve coordination among merchants, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

Other key recommendations include creating a data base of vacant and available parcels for redevelopment for use in efforts to recruit retailers; encouraging local restaurants and merchants to open locations Downtown; and a marketing campaign centered around the slogan "Pittsburgh. Here + Now."

"Unless we sell Downtown, nobody will buy it," the mayor said.

The recommendations are the result of a year's worth of work by the Downtown Retail Task Force convened by the mayor after Saks Fifth Avenue announced that it was closing its long-time Downtown store. It did so in March.

Following the press conference, the mayor and other Downtown stakeholders walked through the Fifth and Forbes corridor, visiting several retailers and restaurants along the way.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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