Cory O’Connor can remember his father, the late Mayor Bob O’Connor, walking from his house every morning to grab a coffee from the Coffee Tree Roasters. When he reached the corner of Phillips and Murray avenues, someone would always stop him just to chat.
That is why Mardi Isler, coordinator of the Gateway to Squirrel Hill project, thinks it would be the perfect spot to be dedicated as “O’Connor Corner.”
“He always walked there,” Isler said. “So of course it’s a perfect spot.”
The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition has plans to redesign the entranceway to Squirrel Hill off the Parkway East by planting new trees and installing brand new light fixtures along Forward and Murray avenues.
O’Connor Corner will be the last step in the development, and will cap off the entire project.
“We are a group of volunteers trying to do things as opportunities arise,” Isler said. “When we get to this stage it will be a fun project.”
The question of when is the most pressing issue for SHUC. As of now there have not been enough funds raised to make O’Connor Corner a reality, but SHUC members believe it will not be a problem to eventually receive the money.
“Overall this is a great project,”
O’Connor said. “It really welcomes people to the business district of Squirrel Hill.”
The corner will be a tribute to the late mayor, set to be a public square with benches. Green bricks planted in the ground will signify O’Connor’s Irish heritage.
An old Irish-style clock is planned for the middle of the park, and O’Connor said they may even change the traditional blue and white street sign and create a special design for the replacement sign. A plaque embedded in the walkway will honor the late mayor.
“It is great when the whole community gets involved,” O’Connor said.
SHUC met Monday, May 24, to discuss details of its master plan for the neighborhood.
Rich Feder, vice president of the SHUC, and head of the Master Plan Committee, alluded to new projects that will be popping up in the near future, the most prominent of which will be the revitalization of the entranceway to Squirrel Hill.
After the opening statements by Feder, the group broke up into several different committees, each with a specific focus for the community. These committees included transportation, public safety, housing and education.
During the meeting on public safety, members of the group praised the citizens patrol program started by Andy Dlinn 10 years ago. This program serves as an “extra set of eyes and ears for the police force,” according to Mitch Maizlech.
“The neighborhood saw a need, and we fixed it,” said Maizlech.
Currently the program has more than 25 volunteers who patrol the streets Wednesday through Saturday nights. Maizlech said that this program is currently one of the largest watchdog efforts in the country.
Activities for young adults between the ages of 16 and 20 were another topic of discussion, as the SHUC members no longer want kids to simply roam the streets. Feder noted that the loss of the Squirrel Hill movie theater was a critical blow to efforts to maintain a teenage-friendly aspect to the neighborhood.
“We already have enough coffee shops as it is,” said Feder. “How much time can these kids spend at these coffee shops?”
The point of the meeting, Feder said, was to generate new studies that will help the coalition construct its final copy of the master plan. The coalition will hold more meetings in June, September and October to generate new ideas to insure the future of Squirrel Hill.
By January 2011 the coalition plans to have adopted the final version of the master plan.
(Brandt Gelman can be reached at email@example.com.)