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City Neighborhoods
Group taking steps to improve Uptown

Thursday, June 12, 2003

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Uptown's new black and gold "Uptown Pittsburgh" banners are sharp markers for a part of the city that long ago seemed to have lost its identity.

Now Tonya Payne, president of the Uptown Community Action Group, wants to do something about a problem along the Uptown sections of Fifth and Forbes avenues -- people loitering in front of businesses.

"We have people standing around all day, getting nothing done," said Payne.

Payne said it would be nice if the city had a tough anti-loitering law, but that is not likely to happen anytime soon. So she brought together a group of local girls, ages 10 to 14, who painted some anti-loitering signs with a simple message: "Please move. You can't stand here." Payne's group is going to ask businesses to put the signs in their windows.

"The signs are finished, but we haven't started the campaign yet," Payne said.

The initiative is small, but like so many things happening in Uptown, it is a step toward improving a part of the city that was dismantled by urban renewal programs of the 1960s and has never been reassembled.

Uptown's Fifth Avenue has some solid businesses, many law offices and a few restaurants, but it also has too many vacant storefronts, rundown bars and small street parking lots for Downtown commuters who don't spend any money there.

Payne's group recently planted new shade trees on Fifth and Forbes and hung 80 Uptown identification signs from light posts. The banners were designed by Adam Filippo & Associates, an Uptown firm that operates out of a classy Fifth Avenue storefront that could serve as an example of the untapped potential of Uptown.

Since March, K & A Marketing, a Plum firm, has been working on a comprehensive market analysis of the Uptown for the Uptown Community Action Group. The consulting firm was hired under a $10,000 contract through the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Mainstreet Program, said Ken Thomas, a principal in K & A.

Thomas said his firm is mailing questionnaires to residents and workers in Uptown to gather information about their shopping habits and perceptions of Uptown.

He said the Uptown organization has been trying to recruit new businesses, but has run into roadblocks.

"Uptown has been neglected for a long time," Thomas said last week. "It is kind of a shame. It is the main connector and everyone agrees there is a lot of potential in the area."

Payne said that when the Uptown Community Action Group, which has about 300 members on its roster, started working 11 years ago, "we were a humble group of residents who felt there was power in numbers."

She said the mission was to reduce crime and prostitution.

Things have improved, she said.

"We don't have a total eradication of prostitution," but she thinks it's less of a problem than it used to be.

In recent years, the Uptown Community Action Group, working with Oakland Planning and Development Corp., has built five townhouses on Locust Street near Mercy Hospital and sold them to persons with low to moderate incomes. She said Mercy Hospital donated the land.

The Uptown Community Action Group is planning to start a second small housing project, one new house and the renovation of four existing houses.

Uptown is not really a neighborhood, but parts of several neighborhoods including the Bluff. Thomas said about 3,000 people live there.

Thomas said it is the area between Fifth Avenue and the Boulevard of the Allies. Its western border starts at Robert Morris University and its eastern border is the Birmingham Bridge. Mercy Hospital, Chatham Center, and Duquesne University and its A.J. Palumbo Center are within the area known as Uptown.

"There are a lot of law firms, a lot of medical offices for doctors at Mercy," he said.

Thomas said he is working with Duquesne University to survey its students about their perceptions of Uptown.

While some students prefer to live in the South Side, there are pockets of students living in Uptown.

"It's prime real estate," joked a Duquesne University student as he entered his apartment on Van Braam Street near Mercy Hospital.

"The community has the potential to partner with the university," Thomas said.

Jan Ackerman can be reached at jackerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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