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Leaders plan a new vision of Downtown Pittsburgh as neighborhood, not office park

Local leaders are drafting a vision of Downtown Pittsburgh that would see the Golden Triangle not just as a central business district, but as a neighborhood where people “want to be, not have to be.”

During a walking tour Wednesday, the group — including Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato, Mayor Ed Gainey and representatives from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development — sketched out three redevelopment projects that they said will make Downtown more livable, though the presentation was short on specifics regarding timetables and how they plan to pay for it.

If that vision is realized, a lush, green park with an outdoor amphitheater, cafes and a balcony extended over the Allegheny River could spring up from the expanse of empty parking lots near 8th street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard in the next few years.

During the past year, the Allegheny Conference — in conjunction with the city and county — consulted dozens of downtown Pittsburgh businesses and organizations to make plans based on planned projects. They also worked with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to make sure each proposed project lines up with potential conversions of downtown office buildings to apartments and condominiums.

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The group recruited Field Operations, a design firm responsible for New York City’s Highline to imagine the future of three civic spaces: Point State Park, Market Square and the space near 8th Street and the Allegheny River.

“Part of what's missing downtown are some of these beautiful public realms that exist in other neighborhoods — the playgrounds where people can play, the dog parks, the green spaces, the pools,” said Allegheny Conference CEO Stefani Pashman. “All these things. Those are what make neighborhoods. And so we need to create more of a neighborhood feel down here.”

For now, these are just broad outlines of possibility with no features set in stone. No timeline for completion has been set and no specific funding has been allocated.

The focus is on linking Pittsburgh’s established civic hot spots from Point State Park to the riverfront by the Rachel Carson Bridge. The path around the green space in Point State Park next to Gateway Center could get a facelift. The new walkway around its perimeter connects to an expanded median along Liberty Avenue with sports courts or dog parks downtown. People could walk along that path to Market Square, where people mingle up to storefronts because car traffic is cut off.

While downtown remains a popular weekend destination, the projects with green aesthetics and pedestrian-focused amenities are part of a broader effort to make downtown a place where people live. Downtown workers haven’t come back to the office after the pandemic, leading to high vacancy rates in downtown office buildings. Daily foot traffic downtown is about a quarter below where it was in April 2019, according to data from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Business leaders and real estate investors are eager to convert empty office space into condominiums.

But getting those conversions right matters, according to Gainey. “Young people that want to live here and make this their home – we're not breaking their pockets, but we're empowering them, inspiring them to be here because they can afford to live here, but they can afford to go to the show,” he said. “That's what this is all about. Create a neighborhood, we create a home.” 

The next step is to meet with members of the community to talk about what they want, then begin to draw a concrete design for these locations. Innamorato said the group is looking “at all sources of public and private investment” for these projects to support a spectrum of downtown’s current and future residents.

“Yes, that's traditional economic development dollars, but it's also our human services dollars,” Innamorato said. “Because what we know is that there are people downtown who call this place home who need help and to be connected to tools and resources, shelters.”