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Green project could put park in Downtown Pittsburgh, 64 stories up

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 6:11 p.m.
One of the renderings proposing a garden on the rooftop of the U.S. Steel Tower, a plan being backed by Friends of High Point Pittsburgh.
High Point Pittsburgh
One of the renderings proposing a garden on the rooftop of the U.S. Steel Tower, a plan being backed by Friends of High Point Pittsburgh.
One of the renderings proposing development on the rooftop of the U.S. Steel Tower, a plan being backed by Friends of High Point Pittsburgh.
High Point Pittsburgh
One of the renderings proposing development on the rooftop of the U.S. Steel Tower, a plan being backed by Friends of High Point Pittsburgh.

After the closure of the Top of the Triangle restaurant atop the U.S. Steel Tower, Downtown, David Bear dreamed of opening the space for tourism purposes until UPMC leased it for executives' offices.

Then, something else with massive potential caught his attention: the building's empty, acre-sized roof. He thought it would be the perfect place for a park.

“For 40 years, no one knew what was up there,” Bear says. “No one really went up there, and they were supposed to build us a heliport and accommodate Harrier jets, but it was never really used as that. Seeing the roof for the first time just kind of said, ‘Wow, look at the big, empty space, what can we do with that?' ”

In 2010, Bear gathered a group of Carnegie Mellon University student engineers and architects to create a design for a green park on top of the 64-story building. Now, an advocacy group of students called Friends of High Point Pittsburgh is backing the idea.

The biggest challenge High Point Pittsburgh faces is the negotiation with the owners of the U.S. Steel Tower, Bear says. The New York real-estate investors had no comment on the project.

High Point Pittsburgh's goal is to create a catalog of resources to reach out to and find any company interested in funding the idea, which could reach $70 million.

Mark Chacula, an architect affiliated with Friends of High Point Pittsburgh, says even though it's a great project, it's not going to happen overnight.

“This is not a studio project anymore. It's not supported by Carnegie Mellon anymore. We are a group of people who want to make this happen,” Chacula says. “I'm not willing to give up on this. It's such a good idea.”

Matt Dooley, who teaches an arts-and-management program at CMU, says the space would be much more than a tourist attraction. It could be a place to learn and educate the children and adults of Pittsburgh. The park's completion would be a difficult process, according to Dooley.

In January 2010, Bear set up the Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU to see what could be on the roof, how much it would cost and if it would be sustainable. Along with him were Golan Levin, the studio director, and Margaret Myers, the associate director. They gathered architectural students, organized them into 32 teams with one faculty member in each and started a competition to see what kind of designs could fit on the roof.

The teams had four days to come up with a design that adhered to the triple bottom line, which meant that it had to be green in an ecological sense, sustainable in a financial sense and provide civic benefits. In the end, five submissions were chosen by faculty members and sent to another competition.

The five teams of graduate students from Heinz College and the Tepper School of Business were chosen and organized by Babs Carryer to create business cases for the designs, which still had to adhere to the triple bottom line. Carryer, an innovation adviser from the Heinz College, wanted to encourage these students to participate in a competition to teach the students about entrepreneurship.

The next semester, Bear chose seven students to come up with a basic design for the park, which was to be simple with attractions. Bear reached out to the Entertainment Technology Center to combine the architecture design, along with two Gigapanorama photos taken from the top of the U.S. Steel Tower to create a virtual tour of the park.

The project attracted many people who thought the idea would benefit not just the building but also the city and county, because it could promote tourism in Pittsburgh.

“It's a fabulous view,” Dooley says, “and there's got to be a way to make it work for the city, for the region, for the state.”

Julian Horta is a staff writer for the Point Park News Service.

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