The North Side’s North Shore
by Lisa A. Miles © 2005
The North Side of Pittsburgh has been around since 1907, when it was incorporated by the city literally against its will, by vote of the citizenry of Pittsburgh. (Of course, it has actually been around much longer; in fact, carrying its own illustrious history as Allegheny City much before most eastern neighborhoods of the city even came into being, but that is material too vast for this writing.) Since tethered to the city, it has had its share of ups and downs and collaborative accomplishments and disgruntlements with the metropolis, perhaps more intensely so than other neighborhoods.
To current-day and even decades-older Pittsburghers, the North Side has at times been simple-mindedly summed up as a place of notorious crime and degradation, with a few optimistic afterthought reflections thrown in about the area’s cultural organizations doing good over here. Oh yes, and then there are the stadiums. (This used to be singular until old Three Rivers was knocked down.) But where the stadiums sit–that is not the North Side, really. Or so some people tend to think.
This article is first and foremost intended to get an update on the massive North Shore development efforts and partially examine how it might affect the rest of the land upon which it sits–the North Side as a whole. But if a few heads from the Pittsburgh citizenry also turn and pay attention to the fact that the touted North Shore is really the North Side, that’s ok too.
Parts of the North Side has shared with East Liberty, Homewood and the Hill District the distinction of being a place of notable drug and firearm activity from about the mid 1960s on, as well as equally having concentrations of gangs in the early 90s. This distinction occurred while the entire city of Pittsburgh echoed nationwide trends toward increased illegal gun violence and drug use. Allegheny General Hospital has been instrumental in curbing both over the last couple decades with the Goods for Guns program and outreach drug forums, as well as neighborhood groups having successful Safe Streets programs. The North Side still takes a rap, though, despite crime percentages being on record as lower here now than even chic eastern neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, where many flock to buy homes. Recently-retired and revered Commander Kelly of Zone One Police, who served for years on the force on the North Side, and assembled and regularly reported on crime stats, has publicly attested to this fact many times.
Neighborhood groups, of which there are about 16 for all the different regions of the North Side, have stressed for years that all of the North Side has taken that rap, actually, when in reality the crime has ebbed and flowed within even neighborhoods themselves–with dire poverty and criminal activity occurring right around the corner or just two houses down, for example, from affluent homes, condos and apartments fetching the highest of monies. They’re tired, of course, of vigilantly and quite successfully fighting those neighborhood street-by-street and home-by-home battles. And they are also sick of employees of North Side corporations who come her daily to work, only to leave in the evening with the misconception that the North Side isn’t full of gorgeous, affordable houses with million-dollar views, diversity of neighbors, and really the best (and oldest) park around. But Northsiders are most wary of the constant portrayal in the media of the North Side as the big bad wolf and the North Shore as being a separate glorious entity that the city of Pittsburgh should regale in. What most Northsiders will tell you, if you look closely underneath the to-be-expected, usual skepticism about new development overtaking the historic neighborhoods and crowding out age-old business, is that they would hope that the tinsel gleaming around the North Shore activity shines a little their way, so that people can begin to recognize just what (despite others’ portrayal ) isn’t over here, what we still need a little help with, and what all really is the North Side.
The North Shore–that area which lies south of the underpasses below Allegheny Center Mall and approximately from the Carnegie Science Center and Heinz Field on over to the Warhol Museum, Lincoln and North Shore apartments and the beginning of River Avenue (with PNC Park and the Alcoa buildings standing out in between)–is essentially just another North Side neighborhood without the representative neighborhood group. (A few of the 16 groups include Troy Hill Citizens Corporation, Perry Hilltop Citizens Council, Observatory Hill Inc. and Fineview Citizens Council.) But you could say the North Shore is its own group, for it has been championed by its longtime residents, the Steelers and Pirates, and now very newest members including the Marriott Spring Hill Suites, Equitable Resources and Del Monte Foods. These, along with the developers for the three corporations mentioned, Kratsa and Continental, are the significant players in the current development of the North Shore, and they are a united front in telling of the benefits the development will bring to the North Side proper.
As with most all metropolitan redevelopment efforts, a holistic approach to the land connected to and left reshaped by the implosion of Three Rivers Stadium was desired–by the key and potential key players, and by the city and its relative departments whose job it is to oversee such remolding of urban land–the Sports and Exhibition Authority, the Stadium Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. They all heartily have spoken on the public record that the joint effort will realize a new, vibrant section of the city that will offer premier family-friendly entertainment, retail space and corporate office space on what just might be the best available real estate in Pittsburgh. They have mutually worked out a long-term plan they feel respects the best interests of the region, and 2005 seems to be the year that will see fruition of so many of the integral components.
Continental Development’s Chairman has stated publicly that his firm’s two buildings, built to suit Equitable Resources and Del Monte (just west of PNC Park and further west, on the other side of the Fort Duquesne Bridge underpass, respectively) will be built heavy on stone, brick and glass, looking as if they have been there for 80 years–and thus a nod to the North Side’s history of century-old homes and buildings. Equitable Resources Director of External Affairs, David Spigelmyer, is certainly into the look. Their corporate offices currently sit high atop Oxford Center, downtown, where they have quite a view of the Point, the South Side and the North Side. This writer and he walked to the windows to take a peek at the new building almost at completion, across the river, far-down below. Why would any company want to leave this perch? He took me only slightly out of the foyer area, and immediately partitions could be seen dividing up staff…. Spigelmyer explained, “we are not into flashy quarters. What matters to us is that there are great efficiencies to be gained by putting all of our business operations together.” (Not to mention a little more elbow room.) He also states that Equitable prides itself on being the hometown gas company. Apparently it is the only remaining gas utility headquartered in Pittsburgh. Says Spigelmyer, “we are fully committed to this city and the North Shore development.”
The Equitable Building, seen from our viewpoint as even more immediately to the left, or west, of PNC Park than it already is, has six stories. Equitable will occupy floors three through six, with retail (as yet not finalized) on the first couple floors, which are interestingly of a stone like PNC Park’s, a different material than the rest of the building. (The base of the next-door-to-be Del Monte building appears the same.) Employees will move into the building (which from far above looks impressive, handsome and anything but unfinished), in stages–some as early as late this month, and then also April and May. Spigelmyer stresses that customers will see no changes. For billing, there will be no new numbers. Service orders will stay the same. The changes will be felt only by currently-cramped human resource, fiscal, legal, and other executive employees who have not really known those within the same company that work, for example in the production department at Allegheny Center Mall. All activities will soon be centered at the new, older-looking building seemingly oh-so close to the river down there. The only exceptions, the External Affairs Director mentions, is that the call center of Allegheny Center will probably remain and of course some jobs will stay at the physical plant on the Southside. Approximately 500 employees will move into the new space, “with no jobs lost, according to my knowledge,” says Spigelmyer, when queried.
When asked about potential involvement with North Side long-standing entities, Spigelmyer points out that Murray Gerber, Equitable CEO, is Co-Chair of the United Way. Certainly the company has had a long history of helping out the surrounding neighborhoods of Pittsburgh–philanthropy, charitable giving, and community involvement. He even states that Equitable feels a level of ownership in the success of Pittsburgh,and is proud to have been the first company to step out and make a commitment to the North Shore. Indeed, he puts forth the corporation’s belief that surrounding communities will reap benefit from their move.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are very pleased to find themselves finally with imminent corporate neighbors, according to James Sacco, Executive Director of Stadium Management. Actually, that concept, as well as having bustling retail and entertainment activity right outside the sports complex area, was the brainchild of Art Rooney, Sr. long ago. States Jeff Dzamko, Board Chairman of the North Side Leadership Conference (a nonprofit committed to North Side advocacy and planning, and commercial and residential development), “30 years ago when Three Rivers Stadium was built, there was all this talk of complimentary development… [adjacent to the property]. It truly is a credit to all involved now–the Steelers, the city and the new businesses–that such development is happening.” Indeed it never had materialized around Three Rivers (due to no one particular fault), but the promises that it would, of course, left some longtime Northsiders skeptical and a bit bitter over the years leading up to the current North Shore development.
But will benefit be reaped and bitterness be swept away for those absolutely closest to the development–the few small businesses left standing on the lower end of Federal Street? Some businesses, including Fast Impression Printing and Castellano’s Deli, that were on that main corridor of the North Shore, left early on when the construction of the two new ballparks was underway. Others, like the Rosa Villa Restaurant, which had a rebirth when the old Volkwein’s Music Building transformed into the Warhol, packed up more recently, though it is said for different reason. Needless to say, not all have waited around for the completion of this, the most productive year of the development. It appears the fate of some businesses have just been too ill-effected by the area’s transition to ever feel good about staying on that short, but historic, stretch, of Federal. (In 1973, before the construction of Three Rivers and the destruction of adjacent flatland into barren, no-man-but-sportsman’s land, what is now termed the North Shore by the city of Pittsburgh was a thriving industrial and residential area. Long before that, General Robinson ferried materials back and forth across the river from Pittsburgh to Allegheny City, around the area of the Clemente Bridge.)
Says Andy Klein, without a doubt the most outspoken and controversial small business owner on Federal Street, “I and other small business owners down here don’t attend public meetings anymore. We became so disgusted in so many ways….” (The North Shore Planning Committee, made up of neighborhood group members, North Side Leadership Conference representation, and independent businesses, is just one of a few groups over the years who have tried to tackle issues regarding the North Shore.) The consensus, discovered in talking to some of the small businesses on Federal Street that preferred to remain anonymous, is that there never were any introductions made by the big team players on board the Development, and no conciliatory moves made once matters like parking and tremendous loss of customers due to the construction zones, for example, became issues. Some things don’t have to be spoken, though, by small business owners. Truly, any customers attempting to run into North Side Bank or stop into the Federal Street small business establishments back in the late ’90s could attest that they were often met with nowhere to park and no way to negotiate their vehicle on Federal Street, with periodic block-offs for construction. Once PNC Park was completed, a sigh of relief was surely uttered by anyone trying to drive up and down Federal Street into downtown. But then the construction started on the Marriott…. And on any given Pirate game day, Northsiders could be polled to see who follows the baseball schedule if just for avoiding Federal Street on home games, where all available meters are yellow-signed “off limits.” Sadly, all the short-term parking, limited to begin with, disappears completely.
Klein, who runs Mirror Image Printing, admits to his cynicism and its portrayal in the press. He acknowledges that he, and many people just by human nature, resist change. (Of course accompanying that is looking for the personal effects of change rather than desiring to see the bigger picture.) He readily offers that, over the years of the ripening development, he placed openly offensive and derogatory signs in his window about public officials, and their support of the activities across the street from his “small mom-n-pop print shop.” Despite such flamboyant resistance, however, he offers his feeling that the hotel is something the North Side actually needs, and he states, “I do understand we have to move forward….” How can anyone offering such outrageous commentary as he has been known for offer such an end-comment? “I come in here at 6 a.m. every day, and have fun with people. I can be myself. Sometimes I offend people… no argument there….” He stops and then starts again, “but…[there is] the bad with the good.”
The Steelers’ Jim Sacco has a personal history of management of Pittsburgh entertainment complexes, including going back to the Syria Mosque. He states that the sports team, who hears regularly the concerns of community neighborhood groups, is quite confident that the entirety of the North Shore development will have enough of a positive impact on all of the North Side to dispel any past hard feelings or current doubts, and even build pride. With “increased jobs [1,000 with development all-told], tax revenues, and new resources,” and even an increase in home buying interest, all of the stepped-up activity surrounding the land by the stadiums will be not so much viewed as commotion but vital energy, believes Sacco.
The Steelers organization was the major player in the Master Plan that defines the desired use of that infamous low-lying land. It was none other than the city of Pittsburgh, though, that tagged new terminology onto part of the North Side in the mid ’90s. Suddenly, residents started seeing new highway signs put up, and started wondering, ‘what is the North Shore?…. Never heard of it before.” Even some prominent North Side figures publicly ridiculed and denounced using it, as well as criticized the city for re-zoning the North Shore as a downtown district.
The Steelers, in axis with the Pirates, shaped the vision first had by Art Rooney, Sr., which described the area far beyond the twentieth century. They did this in conjunction with the above-mentioned three Authorities and two major developers, and even with partners like Alcoa, who built in what might be termed the first wave of the development. The Rooney family has long-invested money and effort into reshaping the North Side as a whole, according to Sacco. Art Sr.’s early business was on the North Side and indeed Dan Rooney and his wife currently live in the neighborhood nearest to Heinz Field, Allegheny West. They are big fans of nearby Allegheny Commons’ West Park and are known to take quite regular walks around their neighborhood. As well, they have been involved and gracious supporters of the Allegheny Commons Steering Committee, planning the massive restoration of the park back to its victorian state.
Jim Sacco of the Steelers can’t mention Art Rooney Sr. enough. The organization certainly credits any North Shore success to the patrician who was so committed to “spearheading the vision” for what Sacco now views as “the energy present outside PNC Park on a summer evening,” even when the Pirates aren’t playing–from couples walking their dog along the river, to hikers on the river front walk, to diners just leaving Outback Steakhouse, which has commanding views of the ballpark and and the downtown skyline. Then of course there is the game-day show of citywide camaraderie that is the preface to any Steeler game. Like it or not, it has Sacco’s described energy. The Steelers spokesman even offers, unsolicited, more than kind words for the two cultural institutions bookending the North Shore–the Carnegie Science Center and the Warhol Museum. He considers them of the highest quality, and this estimation is entirely accurate. The North Side has in the Warhol and the Mattress Factory two internationally known museums. Add to this the Carnegie Science Center, The National Aviary, and the Children’s Museum, and you have one hell of an interesting region. Many of Pittsburgh’s most prominent and cutting-edge cultural institutions are centered in one neighborhood–the North Side.
But the Steelers still have one more entertainment component in mind. They are planning the “highest quality” outdoor amphitheater, to sit right outside Heinz Field, as a final piece, if you will, of the North Shore development to be set in place. Because of funding, and the fact that some neighborhood groups (like Allegheny West, which could receive the bulk of the decibels) have resisted plans for the proposed amphitheater, the project has been set back consistently over the last couple years. And Sacco acknowledges that recently, the Steelers understood and supported Governor Rendell’s decision to redirect state funding set aside for this project to be redirected to the parking situation on the North Shore. However, he offers that the the amphitheater will indeed be built, and now is slated for being up and operational the summer of 2006, albeit not quite as large or with originally desired additional indoor music club, due to further funding restrictions.
Ironically enough, the North Shore area has always been the place for Pittsburgh exhibitions, from early traveling circuses setting up shows there, to being the site of the original Exposition buildings before destroyed by fire and rebuilt across at the Point. As well, Exposition Park, where early Pittsburgh baseball games were played, was situated on the land before Forbes Field was built. One could even say that from the very recorded beginnings of its history, that spot was used for what might be called display and sport. In the late 1700s part of the land plot was unattached to the bank and called Smoky Island. There, at times, were early settlers tortured by native Americans attempting to dissuade soldiers within sight–across river at Fort Pitt– to stay away from the northern side of the Allegheny.
What about parking, after all the development is said and done? If final tally has two sports stadiums, a hotel, at least two new corporate office buildings, and an amphitheater, where will everyone put their vehicle? Equitable Gas’s David Spigelmyer is not concerned. “We have parking secured for our employees once on the North Side.” He also mentioned his knowledge that downtown commuters park on the North Side as well, but he didn’t feel it a detraction. Instead, he used it as example to express utter confidence that the city will work it out with all involved parties since they are so invested in showcasing the North Shore. The Steelers also give utmost assurances that parking will not be a barrier. They feel they have addressed and shown their commitment to making it right by supporting the recent redirection of funds toward that end. Just in case the scales get tipped by the 2006 All Star-Game, however, it is a good thing that most all of the development partners have previously gone on record for supporting the proposed light rail transit project, which would extend the T under the river to all the attractions.
David Cocco of the Marriott Spring Hill Suites, which is set to open mid-month this March, believes that their first-class hotel and restaurant “will strongly support the positive development trend” of the North Side. Outstanding overnight accommodations will be available within walking distance to either stadium, the new businesses, and the proposed amphitheater. He feels that,”once the economy on the North Shore stabilizes… the success of the North Shore should spill over to the North Side and we should see a rejuvenation of the region.” Getting that stabilization to occur might take some time, even admittedly by the Steelers. They feel that once the first major retail establishment or restaurant takes hold, catering to Equitable and Del Monte employees, and Northsiders eager not to have to traverse up McKnight Road, others will follow. Perhaps the outlook will be brighter than in downtown Pittsburgh, which essentially (and sadly) shuts down nightly. The North Shore at least draws foot traffic to Pirate games in the evening, and those same feet will likely trek to nearby spots, as they have started to do with some of the new bars trying to get their foothold in the area.
The Marriott will feature 198 well-appointed suites, all with complimentary high-speed internet, microwaves, refrigerators and “all of the other upgrade amenities Marriott customers have become accustomed to.” It too is a structure handsomely sitting on a base not unlike Continental’s buildings. Views of the Del Monte, Equitable and Marriott strikingly show similarity, a natural continuation of PNC Park and some could say the whole North Side. The hotel will also offer a full-service restaurant and lounge, to open in May. Kratsa Development feels that this new building of theirs is in an excellent location, and will be complimented by the other proposed restaurants and shops for the area. Michael Kratsas, Vice President of Development, praises the work of the contractors for the project and tells of the “excellent amenities for a hotel” that the Spring Hill Suites will have. He states that he has heard within the industry that this particular hotel really seems to be notable, likely due to the location. Indeed, there seems a buzz about all the North Shore projects right now. After all, the plan was so long in coming that many people are looking for reason to celebrate current achievement somewhere in Pittsburgh, considering all the slack the plans for Market Square/Plan B took of recent years past, and the city’s dire financial straits.
It is especially a matter of money, however, that comes into play when considering one final component to all this. The state of Pennsylvania has made it possible for slots to become a part of the Western Pennsylvania region’s economic picture, and the North Side has its own champion of bringing that not just to Pittsburgh but to the North Shore. That champion is Merrill Stabile, owner of ALCO parking. He has previously been granted, by the Sports and Exhibition Authority, long-term leases of many of the surface lots around the stadium. Stabile has publicly come out in support of slots across from PNC Park on General Robinson Street, but none of the key development players agree with or support his vision. “Gambling does not conform to the family-friendly environment that has been prominent for the North Shore business development plan,” said Equitable’s Spigelmyer. Continental’s Chairman, Frank Kass, was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as feeling”appalled” when he heard of such a plan, denouncing it and stating in effect that Continental wouldn’t have gotten involved in the project had that been on the table from the onset. The Steelers and Pirates are united against it. “It just does not fit into what the partners are investing in,”said Sacco. In an honest but brief divergent assessment, Michael Kratsas told this writer that such an operation “of course wouldn’t hurt the Marriott, but I certainly understand the position of the other partners.”
With opposition by development leaders, it would seem that Stabile would put his idea to rest and allow for the South Side to fight over the PA Gaming Commission’s attention, but he has been trying to move forward with it despite. To his credit, he has been known to help North Side community groups before, and he has now taken his plan directly before any of the groups that will listen–scheduling forums to take questions, address concerns, and offer plans for making the slots a reality, but not without offers to help each of those neighborhood groups get what they might need in return. Stabile, who has carried his own weight in city circles, has essentially asked for the neighborhood organizations to honestly respond to his proposal for a gambling facility. Arguably, he can also be credited for venturing out where he is very likely to get plenty of criticism. His goal, instead, is to get viable solutions to counterbalance the pluses and minuses of the North Shore equation.
The North Side Leadership Conference, which actually is a member organization comprised of thirteen neighborhood groups, has left each group to host Stabile, at will, and formulate their own reflections and conclusions, at least for now. Deborah McClain, Executive Director, believes that each group should look at all aspects involved, positive and negative implications, and to weigh the matter not only as it affects individual neighborhoods, but also the North Side as a whole. Five neighborhood groups have so far listened to Stabile and their conclusions are mixed, even within the same group at times. Stabile indicated to each of the groups, beforehand and through their meetings, that he would offer to invest in the North Side in ways that community members felt there was the greatest need. Central North Side Neighborhood Council, which covers the Mexican War Streets area and more (and like all Pittsburgh neighborhoods has its own share of things to be fixed) came out against slots no matter what offers of repair. Allegheny West’s neighborhood group, though no official vote was taken, was “not opposed to Stabile’s plans,” according to Joe Lawrence, Board member. The reason? “Parking and the Park.” (Stabile apparently offered help for the Allegheny Commons area, as well as with the parking situation that is a tense topic to Allegheny West residents ever trying to vigilantly negotiate their homes and historic structures’ boundaries during Steeler and PITT games.)
Manchester Citizens Corporation seems divided on the benefits and detriments, as well as East Allegheny. Bernie Beck of the latter, who attended the meeting with Stabile, states, “it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Stabile would be allowed to go through with his plan, despite opposition from the team.” Thus he and fellow Board members listened attentively to what such a situation might offer. Beck spoke of the overriding negative feeling that comes up with all the groups, that gambling would only further deride a community already plagued with an inordinate amount of homeless and low-income people. Representatives from Mercy Behavioral Health also attended and felt that that gambling would only add to the poverty and depravity they see with North Side mental health clients. One of the largest problems for the North Side has indeed been the fact that there are more social service agencies per capita than any other part of the city. Related to this is a general feeling that most groups seem to share–despite overtures to the opposite, no jobs created are going to be really of the type and rank that will add to the standard of living of the average North Side resident. What will certainly be added, all agree, is more commotion. That word keeps coming up to describe the exhibitionist and entertaining North Shore…. Perhaps the thought is that we could use a little less of that and a little more of what makes the other neighborhoods so great–quiet ‘country in the city’ yards with awe-inspiring homes.
Many from Beck’s East Allegheny group, feel that if Stabile could offer something of real worth to the North Side, & it might just be worth it to support his plan. It seems Allegheny West, too, was impressed to hear of some specific idea for alleviating parking headaches. Impressed at lease enough to give their blessing to Stabile. Probably the most interesting reflection Beck made is what should perhaps be on the mind of all Northsiders who ponder this scenario. He feels that, should Stabile offer anything, it should not just be for the short term. Not a one-time investment in the park or underpasses, for example, but long-term, continued investments–a portion of the winnings, if you will. Even 1% of a gross would likely be a substantial figure, he mentions. Asked if he had made up his mind personally, Beck responded, “…I don’t know,” lingering on every word. He did muster a final thought: “If enough money went into the problems the North Side does encounter, then we’d all benefit.” But is any amount of money enough for Northsiders to turn a blind eye to the strong negative effects of gambling in their neighborhood?
Melissa Murphy is the Vice President of Communications for Del Monte Foods, currently sitting in the former Heinz Plant, since the merger of some operations. She enthusiastically spoke with this writer about the latest on the new Del Monte building, developed by Continental. Though next-door neighbor to Equitable, the Del Monte building is a bit off on its own, separated by PNC Park and Equitable by the Fort Duquesne Bridge infrastructure which straddles overhead. Construction is ahead of schedule for Del Monte; they look to have employees there in stages, come December and January 2006. “The employees are very excited. Right now we are having fun selecting our floor plans, with the corporate headquarters in San Francisco as the model,”says Murphy. Like with Equitable Resources, the move will represent an opportunity to “get all [the] employees closer, in the same building. It is an opportunity to create a more positive work environment.” Del Monte feels, according to Murphy, that “Pittsburgh is a great city to run a business in. We want to leverage that with this move,”which seems very efficient for the company. Why the North Shore, not far from the current site, at the end of the 16th Street Bridge? “The North Side is an exciting part of town… and especially the North Shore right now, where there is more development going on than any other place regionally. We hope to bring even more businesses here….”
The Del Monte Building will have 270,000 total sq. ft., with 40,000 of that being retail or restaurant space on the first floor. It is a six-story building actually made up of two parts (over two parcels of land) connected by an arch. They internally already jokingly refer to the two as “Building A and Building B,” not unlike their current situation with six buildings spread out. As of yet, no definite word on other occupancy, but Murphy mentions that it is still early for that. She says the relationship between Continental and Del Monte has been good, with Strada as the architectural firm. And the Design Alliance, known for their work in Pittsburgh communities, is working on floor layout. As for all those North Shore buildings fitting into the fabric of the rest of the North Side, with its age-old architecture, Murphy mentions that “we wouldn’t want to lose that… we didn’t want to start from scratch. Our company, and certainly Heinz, is very rich in history, and we were looking to celebrate that in other areas.” Yet another nod, this time by a different key player, to legacy behind the North Shore development. Murphy says the company is really looking forward to getting established in their new site, but also with a renewed vigor toward establishing connections with other North Side entities that suddenly become their direct neighbors. “We are very enthusiastic about it all.” Her words were echoed almost verbatim by just about all–Equitable, the Steelers and even the Pirates’ organization.
All told, the North Shore development herein described yields approximately 1.2 million square feet of mixed use property, according to the Sports and Exhibition Authority. New and reconstructed roads include: Tony Dorsett Drive, Art Rooney Avenue, Federal Street, General Robinson Street, Mazeroski Way, North Shore Drive, Reedsdale Street, and Allegheny Avenue, which extends northward into the Allegheny West neighborhood. Other slated improvements, under the umbrella of the North Shore development, are the Fort Duquesne Switchback Ramp and Stairs, which have been left in limbo since Three Rivers Stadium was torn down, and end precipitously right now to the east of the Del Monte building. As well, the infamous underpasses which have so sorely needed attention are slated for renewal. Hopefully, all of this will bring people–and thus in natural progression, extended development–into the neighborhoods of East Allegheny, Central North Side Neighborhood Council, Allegheny West and on up the hill and beyond, to Perry Hilltop, Brightwood, Brighton Heights, and others. Along with the new buildings on the North Shore, visitors to the area can also already find a beautiful river front walk with water steps near the Equitable Resources building. As well, there is a ‘Great Lawn’ area extending down to the Carnegie Science Center, where geese on any given day, summer or winter, can be observed crossing over the road, as if to catch a Steeler game at Heinz Field. And too, there is a grand, red-clay colored esplanade/Boardwalk, to carry people-traffic from PNC Park and outward east and west. Yet for some strange reason, these are little highlighted when the media speaks of news coming out of the North Side. When they are mentioned, they are spoken of as the city’s gems….
What of the view being forever altered by the Equitable and Del Monte buildings, albeit from the lowland side on Reedsdale Street, near the Clark Building? Northsiders might have to take the bad with the good, and adjust to the new sight lines, so spoiled they are of river views much of the time. “Both of our ballparks still have rare open ends and very beautiful views,” mentioned James Sacco. Indeed, they have been touted nationally as wonderful examples of modern sports arenas. Deborah McClain, of North Side Leadership Conference, says of the development as a whole, “there are so many issues to weigh in all of the components of the North Shore. The Conference will continue to be proactive in trying to sort it all out. But, if [those of us in community development] can’t ultimately see some benefits and help all of the North Side to capitalize on the North Shore development, then there’s no way we should be in this business.”
James Sacco believes that someday Western Ave, just slightly up Allegheny Avenue from Heinz Field and cutting through the heart of Allegheny West, will someday be a major thoroughfare again. It parallels Ridge Avenue, the street once known as the original ‘Millionaire’s Row.’ For now, Western has begun to see a turnaround with the opening of True, an upscale cocktail bar, and the renovation of the former Buhl Optical building into the beautiful Northern Light Tower office complex. Over on East Ohio Street, in East Allegheny, change for the better is happening for the first time in years, with the Priory Fine Pastries shop opening and private development interest and acquisition of several buildings. Legends of the North Shore restaurant on North Avenue has been doing booming business and has now opened Legends on James Street in the former James Street Tavern. Such change has been long-worked for collaboratively by North Side Leadership, the North Side Community Loan Fund and the North Side Chamber of Commerce. Federal Hill, near the intersection of Federal Street and North Avenue, has also gotten funding for mixed-use town homes, and the infamous intersection itself, perhaps the very heart of the North Side, should see movement someday now sooner than later. All this is and will be inextricably tied in with the successes and failures of the North Shore development, just as it has always been tied in since the early days of Allegheny City. This can little be denied.
The Steelers have graciously said, “the North Shore is more than just Heinz Field.” Well, Northsiders would prefer to say, “the North Side is far more than just the North Shore.” Though it is for all of Pittsburgh to enjoy, it is, after all, the North Side’s North Shore. Coming from a legacy extending back before Heinz and Art Rooney, to the days of General Robinson and other settlers here, the North Shore is a parcel of land rich in heritage and fame and previous success, with an exotic edge, forever on exhibit. Never should any of these elements really be lost, and never should its historical, social or economic connectedness to the rest of the North Side be forgotten as well, but instead cultivated like the Commons land itself was when Allegheny City was founded. Whatever sits on what has since been tagged, and now accepted by residents, as ‘the North Shore,’ it will have to live up to all of that.
Published in The North Side Chronicle, Winter 2005