The Chartiers Avenue business district in McKees Rocks could be spruced up by repainting utility poles and garbage cans, using open spaces for art installations and installing brighter lighting with more ambient light from businesses, a landscape counseling and planning firm has recommended.
Andrew Schwartz of Environmental Planning & Design LLC in Pittsburgh made the recommendations Sept. 4 to public officials, community stakeholders and business owners who gathered to discuss preliminary plans to revitalize the neighborhood.
The presentation -- part of a detailed Main Street Plan by the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp. and its nine-person steering committee -- includes opening Chartiers to two-way traffic between the Shoppes at Chartiers Crossing (formerly McKees Rocks Plaza) and the intersection of Island Avenue.
Currently, Chartiers is one-way northbound, with southbound traffic (toward Pittsburgh) diverted onto Furnace Street.
The project is in its early stages and will become one of the primary focuses of the CDC now that plans for a flex-use business park at the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie brownfield site appear to be moving forward.
Taris Vrcek, CDC executive director, said he hoped to see a groundbreaking this fall.
In July, a 36.8-acre portion of the former P&LE site was sold for $1.33 million to Greenville Commercial Properties LP, a subsidiary of Trinity Commercial Development.
"That took 14 years to come together. It's been a long road and a heavy struggle," Mr. Vrcek said. "[We are] able to hand off to the developer and now focus on downtown."
The analysis of the current business district's condition by Mr. Schwartz noted, among other things, that not enough parking spaces currently are available for the size of the downtown area.
Plus, the traffic-redirection concept from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation calls for the loss of some on-street parking spaces due to the addition of turning lanes.
Ernie Hogan, executive director with Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, advised the group not to settle with PennDOT.
"Fight for these things," he said.
He discussed his work on the transformation of East Liberty and touched on the battles waged with PennDOT to place trees and curb extensions there. Rick Belloli, with Civic Square LLC in Edgewood, also discussed the revitalization of the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He had served as executive director of South Side Local Development Co.
"In some cases, [the parking is] in all the right places and in some cases it's in all the wrong places," said Mr. Hogan, who urged the group not to allow the parking situation to "drive your economic development." He said those hard decisions can be made as the group gets further into the plan.
"I'm not a believer of build it and they will come. I'm a believer in sweat equity," Mr. Schwartz said.
"The plan is the beginning. Get everyone on the same page and paddling in the same direction."
Mr. Schwartz also discussed the importance of lighting, noting that very few businesses provide ambient light during the evening, which he said, "conveys an empty, unwelcome environment."
He also said the business district suffers from a bad reputation.
"You talk to someone from Shadyside and they're going to say, 'McKees Rocks -- I'm not going to park my car there, it will get stolen.' There's a crime element that the downtown area gets labeled with. Yet, there are very few crimes that happen in the downtown itself," he said.
In addition to focusing on getting new businesses to move into the area, he suggested the group come up with a way to "brand" the area.
"Chartiers is a thoroughfare. People don't look at Chartiers Avenue as Main Street. People don't look at it as a business district," he said. "[You] have to change that."
He also advised the group to address the appearance of the railroad trestle that crosses Chartiers at Island Avenue.
"Think of how to turn lemons into lemonade," Mr. Schwartz said. "[The trestle] is one of your lemons right now."
Sonja Reis, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.