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City will try anew to fix Market Square

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Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today is set to showcase plans for Market Square's latest renaissance at a meeting with Downtown business owners.

A mix of public and private sources will contribute roughly $5 million to transform the square into a brick-and-cobblestone European piazza with decorative lighting, shade trees and more room for sidewalk cafe tables and chairs.

Gone will be the raised, marble planters where homeless people and panhandlers often loiter, according to preliminary plans prepared last year by Dina Klavon Design Associates of the South Side.

Ravenstahl plans to use the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership's annual meeting today at the Double Tree Hotel and Suites, Downtown, to announce the date of a groundbreaking for the renovations, said Hollie Geitner, spokeswoman for the partnership, whose members include many Downtown business owners.

"We really feel it is the historic town square of the city," Geitner said. "It's the wheel, and you have all the spokes of development coming off around it."

Construction could take as long as 18 months, officials have said.

Geitner declined to provide specifics about the final design, but she said it doesn't stray far from those publicly presented during a series of meetings last year intended to gather suggestions from city residents.

Market Square's last makeover came in the early 1990s, when a stage for musical performances was installed along with some trees and lampposts. Many of the lampposts have stopped working.

The improvements did little to rid the square of drug dealers, vagrants and at least one business that served as a front for illegal drug activity.

In a recent interview, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said cleaning up Market Square has been one of his priorities.

He touted his efforts that closed a barbershop where drugs were sold. He said eliminating bus routes from the square last year was an important improvement, as well.

Saying he wanted "to reclaim the center of the city," then-Mayor Bob O'Connor began the effort to clean up Market Square in early 2006. It has resulted in hundreds of arrests, Zappala said.

Police have worked with video surveillance from many private businesses Downtown to help identify criminals.

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