The Strip District will have So Many Trees!

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Sasaki Proposal, Vincent DeFazio

Sasaki Proposal, Vincent DeFazio

Looks like the view facing west from around 35th Street. But if we were to “zoom in and enhance”, it sure seems like the produce terminal is still being given a wide, green berth down to the David McCullough Bridge at 16th:

Acting as a catalyst, the Allegheny River green boulevard project [*] has closely followed in the footsteps of the Produce Market.  In fact, Buncher Co. wanted to rip down a third of the building to make way for the green boulevard after initial plans were released in their report. While it isn’t directly connected back to the building itself, it can have the same – probably greater – impact that the Markets are expected to have.  This green avenue would be the first of its kind in Pittsburgh and one of the real pioneers in the country, it could serve both daily commutes and bicycling tourism which has soared here with the completion of the GAP trail system.  Seen as a way to extend the riverfront presence back into the Strip District and create more recreational space along the waterfront, this ambitious plan calls for new housing, bicycle trails (have been implemented), new public transportation infrastructure based off of existing rail lines, retail space and a natural buffer between development and the river to continue growing the restoration efforts that have been crucial to the rivers becoming clean. (Vincent DeFasio)

What do we think, Cometmaniacs?

Stuff like this does attract people. I would not even object to a few food trucks or other vendors very sparingly arrayed down the pathway, or some busking areas.

13 thoughts on “The Strip District will have So Many Trees!

  1. David Passmore

    The plans for the Allegheny Riverfront and the Green Boulevard are very exciting. Many of us attended the Master Plan public meetings a few years back. At one point we learned that the riverfront – going north all the way to about Nadine Rd on Allegheny River Boulevard in Penn Hills – no longer has any natural soil remaining on the riverbank. The green swarths that we see in the drawings extending right to the water’s edge will have to be entirely reconstructed/created …and that could prove to be the most difficult and expensive aspect of the whole vision. It’s certainly important to do so, and it presents a great opportunity to introduce better runoff and stormwater management processes, which we desperately need. In general, though I see very little about the plans to dislike…concern has more to do with how we’re going to get going with all of this stuff.

  2. Brian Tucker-Hill

    I’m pretty sure the riverfront park/trail stuff will get done in some form. Buncher, for example, wants to do a bit narrower version than the vision plan specified, but the general concept is the same.

    The “green boulevard” will also get done in some form, and probably will include bike lanes. But the public transit components may or may not get done–that will require funding at the state and federal level, and the availability of such funding will depend on the outcome of future elections.

  3. Brian Tucker-Hill

    Overall, I thought there was a serious conceptual problem with that DeFazio blog post. I agree in theory that if no viable reuse for the Produce Terminal could ever be found, it might have to go rather than existing as a vacant, rotting memorial. But the bidding process indicates to me there are in fact viable reuses for the Produce Terminal, and even if for some reason this particular attempt fell apart (which can happen to all sorts of development projects), I think the appropriate reaction to such an event would be to re-bid.

    Generally, almost entirely missing from that post was any serious consideration of why historic preservation, including with respect to major structures representative of Pittsburgh’s industrial period, is important and valuable. Young people today are not insistent on getting just the shiny and new. Many of them understand that creative reuse of historic structures is more green than the greenest of new builds, and I think particularly after the Great Recession, they are also interested in the authenticity and implied resilience of places with a deeper history. And for young people today, the early/mid-20th Century industrial period is far enough in the past to count as deep history, not memory.

    Pittsburgh happens to have a great wealth of industrial structures that can be creatively reused in appealing ways. We should see that as an opportunity for a relative advantage, not as a barrier to progress. That doesn’t mean every single warehouse and such should be saved, but when you have distinctive, cool buildings like the Produce Terminal available, you should be making every effort to preserve and re-use them.

    And ultimately, sometimes that is just the matter of having a little patience, which can come from self-confidence. Pittsburgh should understand that there is no reason to believe the positive conditions it is experiencing right now are transient. Cities everywhere, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are experiencing favorable conditions. And in that sense, the late-20th Century doldrums were really the exception to the rule for cities like Pittsburgh, not the positive conditions of today.

    So we don’t need to slap up new stuff everywhere we can as fast as it is proposed. To be sure, we should be largely giving developers a free hand to replace surface parking lots and such–and there are plenty of those. But we don’t need to be in a rush to reclaim the land occupied by potentially valuable historic structures, because if anything, waiting a bit longer will just make it easier to do something truly innovative and valuable.

    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      DeFazio’s post does elide over why historic preservation, when properly exploited, is of value. Perhaps it was edited for length’s sake, cognizant of an audience.

      And I agree with the rest of your comment, wholeheartedly!!!

      Even still (as an aside regarding your previous request) I have looked at several pictures of the old [historic] storefronts where the Point Park theater is online to be, walked past it at some point, and thought, “Meh”. Perhaps I could be better educated, or maybe elements of the facade should be moved in lieu of sledgehammered. Additionally I wonder whether the increased long-term economic activity of the theater will really be so de-minimis, understanding the wealth of external opportunities for higher-density development available. But I wish I could make that argument prior to the AWC agreement… how much theater space do we need? Given we have some fine stadiums. Theater in the round at Highmark Stadium when the Riverhounds aren’t in town?

      1. Brian Tucker-Hill

        A quick primer (broken up into a few posts): in 2013, the boundaries of the Fourth Avenue Historic District, which is registered with the National Register of Historic Places, were increased, and the new boundaries were specifically drawn to include these buildings, since they are contributing buildings to that historic district. If you go to the following link, you can then download a PDF of the application that contains a lot of useful information:

        The whole thing is worth a read if you are interested in Downtown history, but these are some of the most relevant passages:

        “To the east of the Colonial Trust Company Building, three similar classically-inspired buildings complete the boundary increase area (320-330 Forbes Avenue). The two-story Beaux Arts Royal Building, which was constructed as a restaurant in c. 1910, has layers of classical ornament (scrolled brackets, swags, wreaths) decorating its second-floor arcade. A restrained two-story Classical Revival building next door features three broad bays with large areas of glass on the second floor. The easternmost building in the historic district boundary increase area is a three-story Beaux Arts building with colossal fluted Corinthian pilasters and round arch openings, capped by a projecting cornice with urn finials. . . . The two-story building at 322 Forbes Avenue was built as a restaurant by owner and builder A.W. Mellon for Mellon Bank (The Construction Record 1910b). . . . The remaining buildings in the boundary increase area are significant for commerce. They generally were designed with several upper floors of offices to serve the surrounding financial and business community and with first floor retail space to take advantage of prime real estate. . . . The Royal Building at 320 Forbes Avenue, which dates from c. 1910, was purpose-built as The Royal Restaurant. Its neighbor at 322 Forbes Avenue was also built as a restaurant. The building at 330 Forbes, which was formerly adjacent to the Harris Theatre (not extant, now a parking lot outside the revised boundary), was built by 1923 for the Harris Amusement Company and most likely housed offices and storage space for the theater owners (G.M. Hopkins 1923).”

        (to be continued in next post)

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Recall the following are the criteria for designation of a historic structure under the City’s code–a structure only has to qualify under one:

        “1. Its location as a site of a significant historic or prehistoric event or activity;
        2. Its identification with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the cultural, historic, architectural, archaeological, or related aspects of the development of the City of Pittsburgh, State of Pennsylvania, Mid-Atlantic region, or the United States;
        3. Its exemplification of an architectural type, style or design distinguished by innovation, rarity, uniqueness, or overall quality of design, detail, materials, or craftsmanship;
        4. Its identification as the work of an architect, designer, engineer, or builder whose individual work is significant in the history or development of the City of Pittsburgh, the State of Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic region, or the United States;
        5. Its exemplification of important planning and urban design techniques distinguished by innovation, rarity, uniqueness, or overall quality of design or detail;
        6. Its location as a site of an important archaeological resource;
        7. Its association with important cultural or social aspects or events in the history of the City of Pittsburgh, the State of Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic region, or the United States;
        8. Its exemplification of a pattern of neighborhood development or settlement significant to the cultural history or traditions of the City, whose components may lack individual distinction;
        9. Its representation of a cultural, historic, architectural, archaeological, or related theme expressed through distinctive areas, properties, sites, structures, or objects that may or may not be contiguous; or
        10. Its unique location and distinctive physical appearance or presence representing an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community, or the City of Pittsburgh.”

        All three of the structures likely qualify under at least #3, #5, #8, #9, and #10. The middle building also qualifies under #2 and #4 as it was built by Andrew Mellon.

        (one more post to follow)

      3. Brian Tucker-Hill

        The basic reason the project would be doomed to little economic impact is that it would be so small in scale. A low-rise development of any sort is not going to have the same impact as the 20-35 story towers that are being built on similar amounts of land nearby.

        The fact it will contain a student theater hurts rather than helps its impact. Theaters in general are low-impact uses because they are dark so much of the time, and this theater in particular supposedly only gets about 40,000 non-student patrons a year. That is tiny in comparison to what a simple restaurant could do in the same space.

        There is little else to say in its favor. People are hinting maybe it will be useful rebranding for the neighborhood and attract more investment, but the fact PNC Tower and the new Oxford tower are going in across the street suggests that block hardly needs a rebranding. People also suggest a (lightly-used student theater) will help build a market for other local shops and restaurants, but as areas like Market Square, or similar sorts of areas in Center City Philadelphia, or many other similar sorts of areas in many other cities, have proven, often the best way to build a market for local shops and restaurants is actually just more shops and restaurants. And again, recent successes like the Penn Avenue Fish Market show this area is ready for such developments.

        So I have no doubt that if the historic buildings, or at least the facades, were preserved and reused as restaurants (their original historic use, in fact), that would have a lot more economic impact than a student theater. Then the air rights and the two surface parking lots that are also part of the site could be redeveloped with new office, new residences, or even new academic space (if Point Park really has that need). The collective impact of such a mixed-used development would be way, way higher than the Playhouse proposal.

      1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

        For starters, I’m only amused by the facades on either end. The longer one in the middle seems lacking. Additionally, these drawings may not fully capture the “crusty gray and beige” nature of the facades in the midst of a Downtown where it is natural already to feel “all crammed in”. Now I grant you, this is part of the reason why glass and sandstone are fetishized. But we’re talking about different uses in addition to historic preservation, which tends to complicate both conversations.

        The point that concerns me is the economic and livability impact of the Theater versus something else. It gives one the idea that the difficulty may be summoning the political will to tell a very nice university, “Sorry, we’ve changed our minds. Your plans are not ideal for the City’s rigorous, comprehensive, data-driven development strategy anymore.” That change-of-heart might offend the universities, which inflames all manner of other conversations.

      2. Brian Tucker-Hill

        The facade in the middle is the least ornate, but it also has the most famous builder in Andrew Mellon, which in turn helps tell the story of the relation of this area to the Fourth Avenue banking houses. It also happens to have some of the best spaces for modern use given the extra width and large windows (a sort of trade off with the relative lack of ornamentation, in fact).

        But big picture, I think it is important to keep in mind in situations like this, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. These buildings were all included in the Fourth Avenue Historic District as contributing buildings not just because of their individual aesthetic merits or the individual stories they tell, but because they together represent the history of that time and place. And on a purely economic level, historic preservation has its greatest positive impact not when it preserves just isolated examples, like historic works of art on display in a modern museum, but when it helps create a true sense of the history of the place in question that permeates the whole feel of the district. The middle building contributes to the National District both on its own merits and because it preserves continuity between the other buildings, and we should be holding onto opportunities to preserve cohesion in such districts tightly, because that permeating feel cannot be restored once gone.

        Incidentally, that is also why allowing Point Park to destroy the buildings and then salvage some of the materials should be a non-starter. Again, only a small part of the value of the buildings is in the aesthetics of the materials themselves. The largest part of the value is in having those materials in those particular places creating a sense of the street scene that existed when they were first built.

        As a final thought, I mentioned other cities have embraced and benefited from preserving historic facades so as to recreate a historic street feel, while still using the air rights for modern towers. This is just one of many nice examples, in this case in DC:

        I think sometimes the reaction is that maybe a world-class city like DC can do that, but poor old Pittsburgh has to settle for mediocrity and blandness. The thing is, though, we can do it, including in Homewood:

        And if we can do it in Homewood, we can do it Downtown. But as you say, it may take the political will to tell one of the big local players “no” (or, more accurately, “not that, but maybe something else”).

      3. Brian Tucker-Hill

        Sorry, I meant to also address this:

        “Additionally, these drawings may not fully capture the ‘crusty gray and beige’ nature of the facades in the midst of a Downtown where it is natural already to feel ‘all crammed in’.”

        Feeling “all crammed in” is exactly what you want in walkable urban areas. I believe that is another way of describing what is conventionally known in urban planning as a “street wall” effect:

        Many cities, including Pittsburgh, have had to learn the harsh lessons that the modernist approach to lower levels destroys the street-level scene. And it is heartbreaking to see this block, which had the potential to be great at street level precisely because it predated the modernist approach, slowly but surely get chewed up and replaced with what we know will fail.

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