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Hill District residents look to enhance parks, housing, shopping

| Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

LaKeisha Wolf and her colleagues at the nonprofit Ujamaa Collective have ideas for redeveloping the Hill District, and they don't necessarily involve new buildings.

Wolf, 30, of the Hill, attended the first meeting Monday of what Urban Redevelopment Authority planners said will be a nine-month, $350,000 master planning effort to shape residents' desires for more housing, park space and shopping into an economically feasible plan that could attract enterprising developers.

"We are developing plans for an open-air marketplace in the Hill District," Wolf said, comparing the concept to Washington, D.C.'s weekly Eastern Market where arts, crafts and foods are sold from booths. "People feel safe in these types of markets, and we know they can serve as business incubators."

URA officials worked with Hill District leaders to hire CHPlanning Ltd. of Philadelphia from among 25 applicants to guide a team of neighborhood planning experts that includes Sasaki Associates Inc. of Boston.

Sasaki created the master plan for the former LTV Steel site that became the South Side Works, a successful retail, housing and entertainment district. The firm will host at least two public design meetings, and there will be many more public input sessions, said Charnelle Hicks, president of CHPlanning, who is from the Hill.

"We see this project as being one of regional significance," Hicks said.

Construction of the Consol Energy Center prompted the neighborhood-wide planning effort, but the multipurpose arena is not its focus, said Carl Redwood Jr., head of the Hill District Consensus Group, a nonprofit that promotes community involvement in government-led planning efforts.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, the arena's main tenant, have an option to develop 28 acres of the Lower Hill District if Mellon Arena is demolished. Redwood said residents must have a voice, too.

"People sometimes go places and put down a flag like nobody was there before," he said. "We can't let that happen."

It won't, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in a statement.

"This planning process will ensure that future development is integrated into the neighborhoods, which are once again integrated with Downtown," Ravenstahl said.

A community benefits agreement signed last year ensures Hill District residents and others will be involved.

It projected having a master plan well under way by February, but URA officials said it took longer than expected to gather the $350,000 needed to pay the team of professional planning consultants such as CHPlanning and Sasaki.

The URA and Allegheny County each contributed $100,000; the Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments teamed to give $150,000, authority officials said.

To follow the master planning process and the Hill District Consensus Group, visit ura.org and hdcg.org .

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