Neighborhoods: Uptown: Planning Realistically for Unlimited Potential | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Neighborhoods: Uptown: Planning Realistically for Unlimited Potential

The Uptown Community Action Group has released a plan for bringing Uptown up from decades of decay, starting with what is possible to accomplish in the next 12 months.


The group, headed by incoming City Councilor Tonya Payne, held a series of public meetings to formulate the plan, says Jeanne McNutt, a member of the group's planning committee. And, unsurprisingly, "No one has requested [more] parking lots," she says. "They want safety. They want clean and green. They want to build and support businesses. We want to reach out to the area's potential partners in economic development."


The first item on the plan calls for more enforcement by the city and police against crime and building code violations.


 "I sort of want to call it the other Fifth and Forbes down here," says McNutt. "It's concerning to me how many residents live here and have nothing. No cars. No drugstore. No real supermarket. No playground for the kids. No green space. The violations that fly past enforcement here would never last a minute in an upscale neighborhood. We've got drugs, prostitution, properties that are just delinquent. There are so many surface [parking] lots and there are so many people who are trying to buy up the neighbors, offering insultingly low amounts for their houses to create larger parcels ... for parking lots.


 "But we are on a path to renovation," she insists. We see the potential. It's exciting to help a community's transformation."


She says the group is planning to reach out to developers and hold a housing fair to help potential Uptown residents take advantage of existing city programs that might help them move into the neighborhood.


McNutt, who lives in Schenley Farms, has already renovated a pair of buildings at the Oakland end of Uptown with husband and business partner Dale that anchor one corner. The McNutts's business, the communications design firm Soho Inventions, is run from the large, attractive space, where several family members also live. Jeanne says she and Dale hope to live there one day as well.


The group's plan also calls for:


* working with the city's Shade Tree Commission to bring more greenery to the neighborhood


* encouraging retail development near both ends of the neighborhood, nearest Downtown (just below Duquesne University) and nearest Oakland, around the Birmingham Bridge.


* marketing Uptown


* revitalizing the Uptown Community Action Group itself.


With Tonya Payne leaving the group to join city council, McNutt hopes Payne will keep the needs of the neighborhood in mind. "Tonya has promised that Uptown is high on her priorities list," assures McNutt. (Payne, however, proved unreachable, with her voicemail so full it wasn't even taking messages.)


The group has also made sure there are other big players on its side. Steve Schillo, vice president of management and business for Duquesne University, was part of core planning group that helped secure funding for the Uptown group's plan. "It is absolutely our vision" to seek legitimate grassroots input for the plan's execution, says Schillo.


 "I'm told by people who have been in the community for decades that they haven't sensed this kind of energy" before this neighborhood planning effort, he says. In spring, a class of Duquesne Honors College students will use the Uptown group's plan as the focus for their study of Uptown's possibilities.


Also in the spring, Duquesne will break ground for its own Uptown development, which will include what Schillo calls "a mega-Barnes and Noble," a college pub-style restaurant, a student recreation center and a ballroom for Duquesne functions.


"We want to create amenities along Forbes Avenue," he says, both for Duquesne's 10,000 students and to serve "as a catalyst for economic development. We want to bring these students off of the Bluff, onto Forbes Avenue, into Uptown."


Schillo says Duquesne is in touch "with a number of small businesses" who would like to relocate in Uptown, close to Oakland. He also believes a slots license, if awarded to the Penguins, will help Uptown tremendously -- a far cry from the last time a new arena was built in the area, helping to kill it.


In January, the Uptown Community Action Group will have another community meeting to discuss implementing their plan, although a date hasn't been set yet.


Meanwhile, McNutt sees Uptown having the same success as Lawrenceville and the Strip.


 "We think we can have that same type of diversity, a rich texture of urban life." She sees their efforts as one method "to honor the history here, because it's been erased."