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Greensburg eyes 2 firms for health district project

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

Greensburg's planning commission is recommending two Pittsburgh companies to plan a health care district for the 5th and 6th wards.

The commission voted 5-0 on Monday to recommend that city council designate Urban Design Associates and Fourth Economy Consulting as consultants for the project.

Council is expected to consider the recommendation when its meets on May 13.

Greensburg officials want the district to spark development and to “enhance the charm and character of the residential neighborhoods,” according to the proposal for a consultant.

The planning experts will help define the boundaries of the health care district that will surround Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital, along with goals for the district.

Urban will lead the three public meetings to be held as part of the process and determine land uses in the area, such as residential, commercial and large development, said Steve Gifford, executive director of the Greensburg Community Development Corp., which is involved in the project.

Fourth Economy will determine how parcels can best be used, such as rehabilitating a vacant house or demolishing it and building on that land, Gifford said.

Gifford and city planner Barbara Ciampini interviewed seven firms before recommending the two that were approved by the planning commission.

Urban and Fourth Economy will be paid a total of $85,000, all coming from grant or foundation money, Gifford said.

Both have worked on similar plans involving a hospital and neighborhood, Gifford said.

Paul Ostergaard, a managing principal with Urban, said his company has been involved in plans for Baltimore and The Johns Hopkins Hospital complex and for UPMC Presbyterian hospital and the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

In addition, the firm has done planning for the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

Ostergaard anticipated the Greensburg project will take about six months.

“We want the community to participate with us,” Ostergaard said. “It's really important to get as many people involved ... because you know your neighborhood.”

Urban will meet with “stakeholders” in the area, such as Seton Hill University, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine at Seton Hill, Excela Health and businesses in the two wards.

“There's such an opportunity for Seton Hill and LECOM to connect with that neighborhood,” Ciampini told the planning commission.

The health care designation could shorten the zoning process for developers, making construction easier for higher education and medical facilities.

City leaders have pushed for development of higher education and medical facilities over the last decade as tools for economic prosperity.

Other areas have promoted “eds and meds” with great success, Steve McKnight, Fourth Economy vice president, told the planning commission.

As part of the health care district, which officials expect to rename, city leaders have discussed building a pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks to connect Seton Hill and the medical school with the Greensburg hospital.

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 walking areas around the hospital.

Commission member Karen Hutchinson said she spent much of her life in that part of the city.

She expressed hope the planning will bring back some of the restaurants, bars, groceries and bakeries that once thrived in that area.

“It used to be a very vital neighborhood,” Hutchinson said. “It's not what it was.”

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