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Task force commissioned to offer plan to make Downtown Pittsburgh a more attractive destination

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (right) and Point Park University President Paul Hennigan take a walking tour of Downtown Wednesday, November 13, 2012. The walk was part of an initiative to launch a new strategy to attract Downtown retail. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (center) takes shares a Downtown walking tour Wednesday, November 13, 2012 with Point Park University President Paul Hennigan (left) and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership President Jeremy Waldrop. The walk was part of an initiative to launch a new strategy to attract Downtown retail. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (center) and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership President Jeremy Waldrop talk with Boutique la Passerelle owner Cidalia Duarte during a Downtown walking tour Wednesday, November 13, 2012. The walk was part of an initiative to launch a new strategy to attract Downtown retail. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (right) shares a laugh with Heinz Healey's Charles Schaldenbrand during a Downtown walking tour Wednesday, November 13, 2012. The walk was part of an initiative to launch a new strategy to attract Downtown retail. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is offered a cookie at Blue Bird Kitchen by owner Liz Moore during a Downtown walking tour Wednesday, November 13, 2012. The walk was part of an initiative to launch a new strategy to attract Downtown retail. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl stepped on a stage Wednesday in front of a wide vinyl banner cloaking a row of shuttered retail shops bought last year by Point Park University to transform into a performing arts center.

The spot on Forbes Avenue once was home to retail-stalwart Honus Wagner Co. sporting goods before its 93-year run ended because the family of owner Murray Shapiro no longer wanted to run it.

Ravenstahl, heralding a new retail revitalization strategy, said the Golden Triangle must become a more welcoming place to persuade a new generation of shop owners and shoppers to spend money and sustain restaurants, boutiques and clothing stores in the city's core.

“Some of our primary corridors do not provide the atmosphere that encourages people to walk around and to enjoy the quality shopping and dining that's available,” Ravenstahl said. “We've learned from success stories like Market Square and others that when we provide a welcoming environment, the foot traffic will follow and so, of course, will the investment.”

But this latest effort differs from the $5 million renovation of Market Square, completed in 2010. Instead of a dramatic, multi-million-dollar overhaul, improvements could happen gradually with a combination of public and private money, or not at all if city planners deem them unsound.

Ravenstahl asked a group of 36 developers, business owners and city officials known as the Downtown Retail Task Force to create a wish list — an ideal — of ways to improve Downtown streets.

Their ideas add up to about $18 million to $20 million in upgrades such as brighter street lighting, more street signs, wider sidewalks, additional bicycle lanes and racks, a brick “seat wall” along Forbes Avenue and privately funded building facade improvements.

They include virtual upgrades. One will create a database of vacant retail spaces to make it simpler for entrepreneurs to find a home. Another will market Downtown through an advertising campaign called “Get Downtown” and through a website at pghnow.org.

None of it is built into Ravenstahl's latest $65.7 million capital budget.

Other than a notation about $93,000 left over from a $1 million structural renovation of the City-County Building, the only money earmarked to improve Downtown specifically is $4 million split between 2014 and 2015 to upgrade 10 traffic signals on Smithfield, Stanwix and Ross streets and Fourth and Centre avenues.

The concepts in the mayor's retail plan are intended to be a guide as the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, the nonprofit Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Point Park University and other development-minded groups build in Downtown over the next three years, a period that roughly coincides with what Ravenstahl hopes will be his next term in office.

The primary election for the mayor's race is in May. In Democratic-laden Pittsburgh, the primary generally decides the winner.

Peter and Kimberly Coppola own Serendipity, a clothing and accessories store in Market Square. It was among several planned stops Ravenstahl made on a tour of Downtown's Fifth-Forbes corridor after the on-stage news conference on Forbes. Kimberly Coppola said she appreciates the atmosphere the city created around her business of five years.

“I literally have watched things transform around me from nothing to a construction zone to this. It's wonderful,” Coppola said of Market Square. “The city is helping to create a draw, but I still think there's a lot of people who don't know what it's like down here now.”

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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