City unveils 20-year vision for Allegheny riverfront
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The city on Monday released a 20-year blueprint for transforming the Allegheny riverfront corridor from a faded industrial relic to a boom town, with new housing, businesses, industry, transportation connections and a complete environmental makeover.
The 77-page "Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan" describes the 2,000 acres stretching from the fringe of Downtown Pittsburgh to Highland Park as prime for development, with an abundance of vacant and underused property.
It also acknowledges that redeveloping the corridor will be a slow and difficult process.
The report, by a consulting team led by Perkins Eastman Architects, follows nearly two years of studies and meetings with property and business owners, residents, community leaders and nonprofit organizations.
"The opportunities are endless up and down the corridor," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said.
The report draws powerful contrasts between an area it says "was designed and built for another time" and what it could be.
"Imagine an Allegheny Riverfront where young families move because of the healthy, green environment and the affordable houses; there is a wide variety of incomes and family types alongside new industries; residents can walk to restaurants, shops, and entertainment activities -- which also draw people from all over the city [and the] sense of community is strengthened by improved street linkages and new forms of public transit, which also connect Lawrenceville to Downtown and Oakland.
"Pedestrians and cyclists are encouraged, and are separated from heavy vehicular traffic. Public open spaces invite kids to ride their bicycles to the river and friends to take long walks, or sit and watch the boats pass by. There is more river activity, from people taking their kayaks to work to water taxis, boating, and fishing."
Mr. Ravenstahl said that in contrast to past redevelopment projects that were heavily guided and subsidized by the city, this one will require substantial private investment and some risk-taking.
"Obviously there's a significant public component to it. The reality is we also need the private sector to step up. Things from a financial standpoint have changed. The [Urban Redevelopment Authority] cannot do this alone," he said.
The redevelopment corridor stretches from 11th Street on the fringe of Downtown to Washington Boulevard on the edge of Highland Park.
The plan envisions five "layers" of development moving away from what is now a "neglected" riverfront, with the more intensive changes nearer the river, including residential development, walking and bicycle trails and trees.
Three major transportation improvements are suggested: a long-discussed commuter rail line stretching along the current Allegheny Valley Railroad right of way, connecting Greensburg and Arnold with Downtown Pittsburgh; a "circulator" trolley that would move people through the Strip and to Lawrenceville, with a later phase going into Oakland; and a "green boulevard" through the heart of the redevelopment that would accommodate multiple forms of transportation.
The mayor and URA Executive Director Rob Stephany said the earliest development activity is likely to be on property in the Strip District owned by the Buncher Co. and currently used for parking.
Mr. Stephany called it "one of the nation's premier development sites" and said apartments, an office building and a parking garage were possible.
"We've got a bunch of deals that are starting to get some serious thinking," he said.
"There's already some vibrant stuff happening," Mr. Stephany said, citing conversion of the old Armstrong Cork factory into apartments and the Otto Milk building into condominiums.
The report cited a variety of "major issues" that need to be addressed to promote development, including poor transportation and ecology and a failure to capitalize on proximity to the river.
"From inside the Strip District and Lawrenceville neighborhoods, the river is nearly invisible," it noted.
"It's hard to get around the fact that the Allegheny Riverfront was designed and built for another time. The fabric is a clear documentation of 19th century community values and technology, where riverfront industry and commerce dominated the landscape.
"The natural environment was sacrificed to provide as much land as possible; and the land, including its steep slopes, was stripped of trees and vegetation. Investment in infrastructure was kept to a minimum. Streets were for walking and horse-drawn traffic, not today's automobiles and large trucks. The quality of life was rough and frugal.
"Today the effects of those decisions are seen in traffic conflicts, empty warehouses, parking lots, and weeds -- ironically in one of the most privileged locations in the city," the report said.
"Right now that land is unwanted and not valued because of its old industrial stigma."
The plan places a heavy emphasis on environmental improvements, including restoration of the riverfront, tree planting, stormwater capture and green-certified buildings.
Mr. Ravenstahl said that emphasis was not only "the right thing to do" but would better position the city to compete for federal funding.
"We have beautiful rivers and we have to make sure we capitalize on their beauty," he said.
First Published February 15, 2011 12:00 am