Community voices opinion over Forward Square

Community voices opinion over Forward Square

For the first time since July’s announcement that a new building called Forward Square was proposed at the corner of Forward and Murray avenues, the community got a chance to see artistic renderings of the project and bring their concerns and questions directly to the developers.
Residents of Squirrel Hill and the surrounding communities packed the Jewish Community Center on Forbes Avenue Monday night in order to make sure their voices were heard. Well over 200 people attended the meeting — so many that extra chairs were needed and the room was made larger.
“This really is a testament to the quality of this neighborhood,” said Russell Mills, a partner in principle for Cambridge Venture Partners. “This is why we wanted to do this redevelopment project here.”
The architects, Renaissance 3; developers, Cambridge Venture; and contractors, R.E. Crawford, led the discussion as well as answered questions and concerns put forth by the community.
Local and state officials were also present, as City Council President Doug Shields and State Senator Jay Costa spoke briefly applauding the enormous crowd that showed up.
“We all live here,” Shields said. “It’s our neighborhood. Every project we have dealt with in Pittsburgh has challenges. Your voices will be heard and your concerns addressed or this project doesn’t get done.”
Residents of the community who wanted to be heard had to wait about 30 minutes while Bob Murray from Renaissance 3 gave a short presentation and unveiled the first pictures of the proposed project.
“This is one of the most exciting projects Squirrel Hill has seen in a long time,” Murray said. “It (the intersection) has been looking to be redeveloped for 20 years.”
The nine-story building would feature a hotel on the ground level, retail space in a plaza like atmosphere, an up-scale restaurant and 20 condos on the very top.
The hotel, which was described as an up-scale hotel by Mills, will cost about an average of $125 to $135 a night. The condos on the top three floors will by separate from the hotel, with their own elevators and entrance.
After the presentation and short speeches by members of the government, citizens quickly formed a line well over 20 people long as the question and answer session began.
One major concern for many of the residents was the parking situation for the massive structure. Murray unveiled the three parking lots that would be built along with the hotel and condos. The first lot would hold 112 vehicles and be across Murray Avenue, the second lot would hold 52 vehicles; a third lot next to the building will be dedicated to condo residents and have 20 spaces — one for each unit.
However, residents who live nearby were still worried that that number of parking spaces wouldn’t be adequate and the spillover would take spots away from where they park their cars every night.
“I’m for the development,” said Johnson Martin, a Squirrel Hill resident for 35 years. “They have to work the kinks out first. Parking is going to be a problem. If they add parking meters to our streets we’re in trouble.”
Shields assured Martin and the entire community that parking meters wouldn’t be added on residential streets, but Martin and some neighbors are still planning to take action to protect their spots.
“We’re meeting as a community later on to get street stickers for our cars once the construction is complete,” he said. “We just want to make sure we have places to park out cars.”
Parking and traffic issue concerned a majority of residents who decided to speak.
“This project is viable because there is so much parking,” Mills said. “There is a lot we can do with what we have before us.”
Another concern, which had several members worried, was the building’s appearance. Situated near the Morrowfield Apartment building, many residents didn’t want the new project to resemble similar to the apartment building that some residents referred to as “unattractive.”
“We had four different designs to choose from,” Murray said, “this is the design that came to the top.”
Murray, Mills and Tom Chunchick from R.E. Crawford said the building will be about as tall as the Morrowfield, but it won’t look that similar.
“We don’t want to make a cookie cutter building,” Mills said. “We want to make this a Pittsburgh building.”
A couple of residents did their best to plead for the saving of the buildings that are marked for demolition. The Tango Café had a handful of supporters on hand, but it seemed as if they were fighting a lost cause.
Others raised the issue of commute time once construction begins.
“I’m for it, but I’m not pleased because I live down the street and it’s going to be just terrible while they build it,” Squirrel Hill resident Esther Tucker said. “We need a hotel desperately, but the traffic is going to be a big problem. I hope they know how to solve it.”
The project is still in the early stages of planning. All the comments would be taken back to more meetings and evaluated Mills said. No date for construction has been set.
“I think we’ve come up with something great,” Mills said. “This design is our starting point. We still need to look over your input and see what we can do.”

read more: