A long stretch along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, once home to steel mills, suffered, like so many cities along the Rust Belt, from the decline of local industry. The Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard (ARGB) Study, led by Sasaki Associates with the help of Hacin + Associates, seeks to transform this 6.5-mile-long strip from an industrial corridor, filled with vacant tracts of land, into a mixed-use area that provides a robust connection between the existing neighborhood and riverfront.
The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) secured a $1.5 million Partnership for Sustainable Communities grant from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund this study. Building on the 2010 Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan by Perkins Eastman Architects, Sasaki Associates has conceived of a comprehensive plan that focuses on creating access to the Allegheny riverfront, developing parkland and green spaces, designing a bike-path along the railroad, turning the freight rail into a multimodal corridor with commuter rail service, and laying the groundwork for new residential developments and light industry to move into the area.
“The objective was to recapture access to the riverfront,” said Robert Rubinstein, Director of Economic Development at the URA. “On a more sophisticated level, it is about unlocking economic value and repositioning the land uses.”
Sasaki embarked on the study in July 2011 and is now close to completing it. Partner Jason Hellendrung said that throughout the process the firm did extensive community outreach to engage local residents. They also partnered with economic development consultants Partners for Economic Solutions to help determine the appropriate uses for the neighborhood. Through market studies, Partners for Economic Solutions provided Sasaki and Hacin with insight into the demand for office space and housing, and how these projects could potentially be financed.
The team at Hacin zeroed in on the 43rd Street District in Lawrenceville, a 19th century middle class neighborhood, where there is a substantial amount of vacant land on the waterfront. David Tabenken, a senior associate at Hacin, said the firm created a flexible plan that incorporates a mix of open space and residential and commercial development along rail and multipurpose recreation paths that extend the neighborhood to the riverfront. The scale of the neighborhood, in addition to economic considerations, guided Hacin’s provisional designs of the residential component.
“We delved a little bit into these housing typologies, iterations of loft units, and town houses to convey to the city that there are a range of options for development,” said Tabenken.
While this study has been underway, Rubinstein said the URA has been actively targeting “ripe opportunities for investment that would allow us to pierce that barrier that gets us to the river.” This translates into negotiating and striking deals with private property owners to buy up land and relocate businesses to other sites. The URA has set their sights on a few specific pockets along the Allegheny Riverfront including the zone between 40th and 48th streets, a privately owned property between 11th and 21st streets, and a third area on the eastern border of the city that could serve as a multimodal transit hub.
Funding poses a challenge, but Rubinstein explained that they have been able to secure some capital by way of “modest requests through the city,” such as capital budget bonds for development and tax increment financing.
“There are a lot of moving parts. It is complicated and expensive, but at the end of the day, it will make Pittsburgh a better city,” said Rubinstein.