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Restoring Pittsburgh's fountain a major cost for Point State Park

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Fort Pitt Museum inside Point State Park Tuesday June 4, 2013.

Beautifying Point State Park and reviving its dormant fountain cost taxpayers and private donors $39 million and required more than seven years to complete.

The project exceeded its initial budget by about $4 million and got off to a rocky start in 2006 and 2007, when labor disputes caused delays and historic preservationists complained the overhaul erased some traces of Colonial-era Fort Pitt.

Supporters contend the time and expense were worth it to redo the city's 36-acre welcome mat.

“It's a lot of money but it's a terrific investment,” said Connie George, spokeswoman for tourism agency Visit Pittsburgh. “Point State Park and its fountain are icons of our city skyline.”

Plumbing, masonry, electrical and mechanical work on the fountain cost $11.6 million, which accounted for more than a quarter of the overhaul costs supported by state investments and private donations collected through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Point State Park is the department's only metropolitan park.

A year ago, cracked concrete and loose cobblestones littered a muddy great lawn, said John DeSantis, the project's general contractor.

“It looked like a bomb went off,” DeSantis said. “But now, no way. She stands out.”

Masons dismantled and then restored granite and stonework while crews installed an irrigation system and high-efficiency pumps.

DeSantis, working with SET Inc. of Lowellville, Ohio, oversaw in masonry and stonework.

Christina Novak, department press secretary, said the project's major costs included work to restore the fountain, redo the lawn and stone work, improve the Monongahela and Allegheny river wharfs and build an on-site cafe, which opened in 2011 at a cost of $690,000.

She said the state's share was about $32 million. The park attracts about 3 million visitors a year, Novak said.

Contractors added lighting, walkways, benches and landscaping for $9 million between 2007 and 2008. Crews planted 7,000 native trees, shrubs and perennials in 2009. Adding and restoring concrete edging and an irrigation system to the Woodlands, a separate wooded area, cost $1.94 million.

Construction on the Allegheny and Mon wharfs began in 2009. Workers added LED lighting, boat tie-ups and benches to walkways and an overlook. Those projects total $8.75 million.

Stephan Bontrager, director of communications for Riverlife, a project sponsor, called the redevelopment a “point of pride and nostalgia.”

The partnership to fund the park was unique, he said, in that it brought together public and private interests.

“Obviously, we could always argue that parks money could've been used somewhere else,” said Councilman Corey O'Connor, who chairs City Council's Committee on Urban Recreation. “But those were state funds, and the fountain is a landmark that brings in a lot of city revenue.”

Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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