By Raymond N. Baum, President

Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition

info@SHUC.org

 

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Forward/Murray during the clean up process

The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition has been working with Mayor Bill Peduto, Councilman Corey O’Connor and many others to pave the way for redevelopment of the vacant, underutilized and blighted properties at the intersection of Forward and Murray Avenues (also known as the Squirrel Hill Gateway). Included are the closed Squirrel Hill Theater, the site of the Forward/Murray corner buildings that burned down on May 14, the Verizon Building, the former Burton Hirsh Funeral Home and the vacant or underutilized properties on the right side of lower Forward Avenue approaching the westbound entrance to I-376. All represent great opportunities for redevelopment.

 

Here’s a short list of what has been done to help generate interest in the Squirrel Hill Gateway:

 

  • Mayor Peduto and Councilman O’Connor have offered to help provide more parking, improve the flow and safety at the Forward/Murray intersection and other redevelopment assistance.
  • The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is proposing that all these properties be made part of a special redevelopment area so that this section of Squirrel Hill will qualify for funding and assistance without the use of eminent domain or the imposition of development and use restrictions.
  • Councilman O’Connor has been actively encouraging developers to invest in all the properties listed above.
  • The Coalition worked with two CMU graduate architecture/real estate development classes and the community to assess the sites and propose creative re-uses. The student’s report is available on our website, shuc.org.
  • The Coalition’s Gateway Committee developed a plan for public improvements (also on our website) and worked with Councilman O’Connor and the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) to install all new street lighting and appropriate trees on Murray Avenue.
  • The Gateway Committee installed the “Welcome to Squirrel Hill” sigWelcome Signn on Forward Avenue and maintains the Remembered Garden by the I-376 westbound entrance.
  • DPW and the Coalition are renovating the Post Office parklet and developing plans for a plaza at the corner of Phillips and Murray.
  • Our Gateway Committee and Uncover Squirrel Hill are working with property owners in the business community throughout Squirrel Hill to improve their properties.
  • ACTION-Housing, Inc., the owner of the Poli’s restaurant site, has obtained the necessary permits and is clearing the lot of debris following a fire at an adjoining property that led to the building’s demolition. Zoning approvals have been secured and construction of an apartment building is planned for 2016. 

 

While all of the Gateway properties will continue to receive our attention, it is the long vacant Squirrel Hill Theater and the vacant Forward/Murray corner lot that have received the most interest.

 

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Hard at work cleaning up debris

The owner is of these lots is Alderson-Forward Properties LLC, owned by a group of investors, including Allderdice graduates, Danny and Eddie Krifcher.  They purchased the theater and corner property, in addition to seven apartment buildings on Maeburn Road and Alderson Street behind the Squirrel Hill Theater, from the Watkins family in June of 2000.   There have been many concerns raised about the condition and future of these properties, especially since the corner building burned down in May.

 

Eddie Krifcher tells me that his group has hired contractors to clear and landscape the corner lot and has obtained the various permit and approvals needed. He also reports that they have entered into agreements of sale for the theater and corner properties three times, only to see the purchasers walk away.  The first agreement of sale, signed in 2008, anticipated the construction of a hotel and condominium.  This was supported by the Coalition and the community but fell victim to the national economic recession. Mr. Krifcher says that these properties are again under agreement.  The Coalition looks forward to meeting and working with the buyer.

 

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Things are shaping up for these apartments!

Mr. Krifcher had much to say regarding the Maeburn Road and Alderson Street apartment buildings. While they appear from the street to have been neglected for many years, Mr. Krifcher said that his company has made substantial interior improvements, including replacing hot water heaters, more than 100 appliances and almost all mechanical and heating systems. In addition, five of the seven roofs have been replaced; new electric services have been installed in five of the seven buildings; hardwood floors in the majority of units were refinished, and more.

 

Mr. Krifcher also said that major exterior improvements have commenced and will continue, including the removal of dead trees, replacement of a retaining wall and concrete walkways, new windows, extensive landscaping, new exterior lighting, exterior planters, extensive masonry work, a professional tree care plan, bike racks, etc.

 

Hopefully by the time this article reaches you, the corner property will have been cleared and landscaped, Alderson-Forward Properties will be under agreement with a buyer who will be working with the community on plans befitting our Squirrel Hill Gateway, and the much needed exterior work on the Maeburn-Alderson apartment buildings will be well underway.

 

This is just another project of YOUR Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition working for you and helping to improve our community. We would love to hear your feedback on this issue. Please send you comments and questions to info@shuc.org.

 

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