Public gets hands-on with ideas for South Park fairgrounds

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The public put its money where its mouth was during a public meeting last week about the future of the South Park Fairgrounds.

Everyone in the audience was given $500 in fake money to play a kind of board game, placing the "money" on an element that the player thought was a priority.

Elements receiving heavy play included removing Schoonmaker Hall, improving the oval fields/track surfaces and enhancing the park gateways.

A popular write-in item was "improving bathrooms."

The input from this meeting, as well as another public meeting in September and focus groups and an online survey will be incorporated into a report from GAI Consultants, of Homestead, that is planned for completion at month's end.

The study is supported by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the county.

While there is no money in hand for improvements, the county is more likely to receive funding from foundations, and the state and federal governments, if a plan is in place, said county parks director Andy Baechle. There is no timetable.

The process was set in motion through a master plan created several years ago for all nine county parks. One of its recommendations was the formation of a nonprofit parks foundation to which tax-deductible donations could be made.

That done, the master plan was again addressed, such as its call for a detailed vision of the 76 county-owned acres from Corrigan Drive to McCorkle Road encompassing the Fairgrounds, exhibit hall buildings, amphitheater, police barracks, Nature Center, tennis/basketball courts, and more.

"This area has a tons of potential, but it has lagged," said Jeaneen Zappa, the Allegheny County's sustainability manager.

At the meeting, three options -- titled "Modified," "Campus" and "Picturesque" -- were presented to solicit comments from the audience.

The "Modified" option is based on what can be done fairly easily and economically, such as removing/repairing bleachers, improving oval fields/track surfaces and enhancing park gateways.

With "Campus," which emphasizes pedestrians, the recommendations include removing Agricultural Hall for additional parking, adding a "green" parking lot at McCorkle and Brownsville roads and reclaiming the southern end of Catfish Run.

"Picturesque" focuses on the naturalistic quality of the park's original planning, such as reconfiguring the oval track to curvilinear shape, relocating the tennis/basketball courts and relocating the nature center adjacent to Catfish Run.

Ms. Zappa said the final report will likely include elements of all three,

Christine Fuller, executive director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, said the organization will review the final report and work with the county on the next steps.

After the meeting, Jeff Danchik, director of the Mon Valley Express, a drum and bugle corps which leases space from the county at Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive, said the area needs more attractions, such as a craft shows or flea markets.

"A lot of people don't know we're here," Mr. Danchik said.

Walt Sackinsky of South Park said he would like to see the infrastructure addressed, such as aging water, gas, and sewer lines, and fire hydrants.

For Terry Tressler of South Park, priorities include improvements to Corrigan Drive such as adding a middle turning lane with room on each side of the road for walkers and bikers.

His wife, Donna Tressler, would like to see Schoonmaker Hall, which is used for storage, razed. "It is falling down and dangerous, with kids going in and out," she said.

A big priority for both is improving the bathrooms.

The couple, lifetime park users, are hopeful for change after attending both public meetings.

"I'm impressed with the caliber of people who seem to want to improve the park," he said.

Details: www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/SPFairgrounds.


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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