Murray and Forward – There’s a Lot Going On! By Raymond N. Baum, Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition President **NEW DATE: The URA and the Coalition are convening a Public Meeting to discuss the Conditions Report and the next steps in our continuing efforts to attract redevelopment and investment in the Murray-Forward Area. It will take place at 6:30pm, Wednesday March 30, 2016, at the Multi-purpose Room at Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill (1405 Shady Avenue). Here’s what’s new: The Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh (URA) obtained a Basic Conditions Report for the Murray-Forward Study Area (referred to simply as the Conditions Report), which is a big step forward in making the Forward-Murray area eligible for needed assistance. This is a critical next step in the efforts to facilitate the redevelopment of the vacant properties. ACTION-Housing, Inc., with the active support of the URA has submitted its application to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. If approved in July (and ACTION has good reason to be optimistic) Jewish Residential Services will construct its new offices and Howard Levin Clubhouse and ACTION will construct 33 new apartment units on the former Poli Restaurant site. The former Squirrel Hill Theater and the former karate building at Murray remain under agreement to buyers who appear to be moving forward with a substantial commercial development. No details are available yet. We look forward to working with them. Verizon has agreed to work with the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition to paint and repair the exterior of its building, landscape and commence further discussions regarding the potential rehabilitation and reuse of the building. The Verizon building contains critical communications equipment but houses no employees. Our thanks goes out to Rich Feder, Mardi Isler, Jim Burnham and Marian Lien for moving this forward. The Coalition has formed a Pedestrian-Bicycle Committee focused on improving pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle safety in Squirrel Hill, emphasizing on the Forward-Murray area. One proposal receiving interest is a new hike-bike trail connecting the Forward-Murray area, “The Run” section of Greenfield and the Eliza Furnace Trail to Downtown and beyond. Progress on the Conditions Report continues and acknowledges the efforts of the Coalition’s Gateway Committee, and the Committee’s 2009 Gateway Plan and the 2014 collaboration among the Coalition, CMU Graduate Architectural/Real Estate Development students and the community. We thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Design Center for their ongoing support of these efforts. The Conditions Report focuses on an 11-acre area (the Study Area) from the bottom of Forward Avenue at I-376 up to Shady Avenue and over to Morrowfield. The findings of the Conditions Report include: The five way Murray/Forward/Pocusset intersection is dysfunctional and dangerous to pedestrians and vehicles. The Study Area has been deteriorating since the Poli Restaurant closed in 2005. The deterioration was compounded by the 2009 fire that destroyed the Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home, the closure of the Squirrel Hill Theater in 2010, the closure of the former karate school building, and the 2015 fire which destroyed the former karate school building and required that the former Poli Restaurant be demolished. Traffic from I-376 significantly impacts the Study Area. We hope this fact will help in obtaining funding from PennDOT for Forward Avenue and the Murray/Forward/Pocusset intersection. Twenty-three percent of the 11-acre Study Area is vacant land. Several buildings including the Squirrel Hill Theater, the Verizon Building and the buildings across from the Squirrel Hill Theater on Forward Avenue are empty, underutilized, deteriorated or otherwise adversely affect the area. The Conditions Report recommends that the Study Area be certified by the Pittsburgh Planning Commission as a redevelopment area in order to make resources available to facilitate redevelopment of the vacant and underutilized property. These resources would not include eminent domain but could include funding to improve the Murray/Forward/Pocusset five-way intersection, provide parking, street and traffic improvements, and provide incentives for private development of vacant and under-utilized properties. The URA and the Coalition are convening a public meeting to discuss the Conditions Report and the next steps in our continuing efforts to attract redevelopment and investment in the Murray-Forward Area. It will take place at 6:30pm on Wednesday, March 30, 2016, at the Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill. We hope to see you all there!