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Riverlife panel offers the obvious

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2001

In devising a comprehensive city riverfront plan that flaunts the obvious, the Pittsburgh Riverlife Task Force appears to have been operating in a no-wake zone.

Unfortunately, I don't mean panel members were on a waterway where boats must move leisurely enough not to create waves for other crafts. I mean they were not awake.

Slumberland is perhaps the easiest explanation for the tired, trite suggestions the 40-member panel appointed by Mayor Tom Murphy finally released Monday. This after spending two years and $2.4 million of mostly private funds on what originally was billed as a one-year, $100,000 mission.

The riverguys' primary recommendation was the creation of Three Rivers Park, a sprawling riverfront common extending along the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

Two years to come up with that plan• The idea is so in-your-face obvious you could feel its breath, if only such concepts had respiratory systems and could actually breathe.

The strike force suggested finding an "appropriate government agency" to oversee the development of Three Rivers Park. That was an apparent reference to the Sports & Exhibition Authority, the local government entity currently renovating the North Shore riverfront.

Of course, the authority will need a new name to go with its new duties. An obvious choice is the Sports, Exhibition, Waterfront & Riverlife Authority. The public probably would tolerate the SEWR acronym.

The task force also suggested the development of park space along the Monongahela Wharf. This would be an obvious aesthetic improvement to an area which for decades has been used primarily for parking, occasionally for mugging.

So obvious, in fact, that the idea has been floating around at least since Sophie Masloff was mayor. Masloff left office at the end of 1993. That's one durable piece of intellectual driftwood the riverguys hauled out of the water.

They also suggested reconnecting the Fort Duquesne Bridge walkway to the North Shore. This would certainly represent progress, considering the walkway once linking the span to Three Rivers Stadium has abruptly ended in mid-air since the stadium was demolished in February.

Imagine the effort put in by the high-priced task force consultant who tackled this one. Peering up at the walkway from a North Shore parking lot, he probably said: "Yessirree, I think we need to bring this baby back down to the ground. I think we need to do that, and soon, too. Whew, I'm tired, let's call it a day."

The riverguys also want to locate additional space where recreational boaters can put their crafts in the water. Me, I'm guessing the shoreline will surface as the ideal locale. It's an obvious choice.

The task force has no authority to implement its ideas and no money to pay for them. Much of its plan involves privately owned real estate whose owners are under no obligation to share the panel's riverfront vision.

Yet this benign proposal's release was praised by such bigwigs as Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey and Mayor Murphy, who at one point opined, "Too often, we settle for something far less than we ought to."

He wasn't referring to the riverfront plan, but he should have been. By spending millions on a plan of such impotent unoriginality, it appears the Riverlife Task Force was asleep at the wheel.

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