Millions in updates called for to revive Pittsburgh's Downtown retail
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A task force is calling for millions of dollars in improvements, including new bike lanes, facade renovations and better street lights and trees, as part of a three-year plan to enhance the retail climate Downtown.
The Downtown Retail Task Force, convened by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, also is proposing strategies to attract and retain retailers as well as a marketing campaign to tout the city and its center core.
While the task force's report does not target specific retailers by name, it states that one goal is to support and encourage unique destination retail, boutique districts and large-scale retail in the Golden Triangle.
In addition, it is recommending the creation of a Downtown retailer's association, the development of a plan to entice local businesses and retailers into the city, and the nurturing of amenities that enhance Downtown living.
The report, to be released at a news conference today, is the result of nearly a year's work by a host of Downtown stakeholders, including retailers, business and political leaders, and university officials.
It seeks to build on the transformation that has been taking place Downtown, where dozens of new restaurants have opened, the office market is tightening, and the number of apartments has doubled in the last five years. It also takes into account the mayor's initiative to restore and reuse vacant storefronts and to convert the upper floors into office or residential space.
"Every building is being looked at with a close and keen eye for its potential promise," said CBRE executive vice president Herky Pollock, a task force member.
The task force is targeting Smithfield and Wood streets and Forbes Avenue -- all in the heart of the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor -- for major improvements. Despite the redevelopment already taking place Downtown, parts of all three streets could use some work.
On Smithfield, the task force floated the idea of converting an existing bus lane into a bicycle lane. It also is proposing new and expanded sidewalks, new trees and light posts, facade improvements and other upgrades, including bike racks on each block.
The task force also saw potential for converting part of the street to a bike lane on the north side of Forbes, which it described as a major gateway to Market Square. It also envisioned a "seat wall" on the south side of Forbes near Grant Street that would separate the sidewalk from a long-standing parking lot.
Other Forbes improvements include banners, facade upgrades, new and expanded sidewalks, and new trees and lighting. The task force said the proposed relocation of Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to lower Forbes near Wood would help create a new gateway to Smithfield.
The task force saw Wood as a link to the Downtown retail center and the cultural district.
It proposed upgrades like facade renovations, awning and window replacements, outdoor seating, masonry repair, and new trees and lighting to "greatly improve the overall aesthetic and sense of place" on the street, part of which will host the new $400 million glass skyscraper being built by PNC Financial Services Group.
Mr. Pollock said Grant Street and Fifth and Liberty avenues are considered by some to be the main thoroughfares Downtown. One goal of the task force was to "accentuate the positive attributes of some of the cross and parallel streets" such as Smithfield, Forbes and Wood, he said.
Overall, the cost of the improvements could total as much as $18.5 million, with public, private and civic sources sharing responsibility for funding.
Such improvements would supplement redevelopment already taking place in the corridor.
Local developers Millcraft Industries and McKnight Realty Partners are proposing to build 101 apartments, a parking garage and 20,000 square feet of retail space on Smithfield.
Oxford Development Co. also will decide by the end of the year whether to build a $238 million, 33-story skyscraper on Smithfield between Forbes and Fifth or gut and renovate the existing seven-story office building there.
On Wood, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation is overseeing the restoration of cast iron facades on three buildings, two of which it owns, as part of a plan to establish a women's fashion district in the section between Fourth Avenue and Fifth.
Millcraft is developing the $81.8 million Gardens at Market Square office and hotel project on Forbes near Wood.
The task force report also calls for a marketing initiative that would be built around the slogan "Pittsburgh. Here + Now." It is intended to convey the idea that "Our time has come. We've made it. Here. Now. And you need to be part of it."
The campaign, designed by North Side's Wall-to-Wall Studios, is aimed at highlighting city assets and showcasing "the wonderful progress that has been made throughout the Pittsburgh region."
Mr. Pollock said the timing couldn't be better.
"The demand for space -- retail, office and multi-family -- has never approached the levels that we're seeing today.
"It's safe to say that given all the changes we've experienced over the last decade, Downtown has never been better," he said.
First Published November 14, 2012 12:00 am