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Greensburg seeks consultant to fashion health care district

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 6:39 p.m.

Greensburg officials plan to hire a consultant to oversee the development of a “health care district” around Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital.

City officials are proposing the district in sections of the city's 5th and 6th wards as a way to spark development and “enhance the charm and character of residential neighborhoods,” according to the proposal for a consultant.

The consultant will help define the boundaries of the health care district, Ciampini said.

Restaurants once were prominent in the wards around the hospital, which draws about 220,000 visitors annually, Ciampini said.

“It would be nice to help the neighborhoods establish themselves once again,” Ciampini said during a planning commission meeting on Monday.

The health care district designation could shorten the zoning process for developers, who could more easily change residential properties over to a commercial designation.

“The purpose of this land-use study is to provide the city, the community and the businesses in this area with a specific plan for the future, to create the conditions for sustained development,” city planner Barbara Ciampini said.

Over the last decade, city officials have directed their development efforts toward making construction easier for higher education and medical facilities.

They point to a Brookings Institute report — one touted by former Gov. Ed Rendell — that “eds and meds are going to improve your economy, which they are in Greensburg,” Ciampini said.

Westmoreland Hospital, Seton Hill University and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine are within city limits. The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg campus is about 2 miles outside the city.

“The city of Greensburg and our partners believe a coordinated effort to encourage new public and private investments within a defined geographic area will ensure the long-term success of these health care and higher education institutions and provide opportunity for residents and entrepreneurs to prosper,” city officials said in a report accompanying an application for a state grant.

“Health care is a highly competitive business in today's market,” Ciampini said, “and we want our community hospital to come out a winner. The city and Greensburg Community Development Corp. are stepping up to the plate to become a partner via this public planning process.”

As part of the health care district, city officials are considering building a pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks to connect Seton Hill and the medical school with the Greensburg hospital.

Project planners will do an inventory of properties in the proposed district, access the roads people use to get to the hospital, and examine pedestrian traffic-signal times and walk areas near the hospital, said Steve Gifford, executive director of the city development corporation.

Parking around the hospital will also be examined, Gifford said.

A steering committee consisting of representatives of Seton Hill, the medical school, Excela, Westmoreland County, the community development group, the city planning commission and city council will select the consultant and direct the project, according to the consultant proposal. City officials want to have a contract in place with the consultant by April 8.

The city has received a $30,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for the project. In addition, the Richard King Mellon Foundation has contributed $33,000; PNC Bank, $20,000; the Lake Erie medical school and Excela, $5,000 each, city officials said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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