The clouds parted just in time on Monday for the groundbreaking of our first phase of restoration of Downtown’s historic Mellon Square. Sitting amongst the Square’s daily lunchtime visitors, our committee, donors, and supporters heard remarks from the PPC’s Executive Vice President, Richard Reed, Committee for Mellon Square Co-Chairmen, Daniel I. Booker, and George C. Greer, with closing remarks made by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
As the rest of the staff and I prepared for the ceremony to begin, I watched the Square come to life with the pulse of its everyday life. A convergence of the people who climb down from the sky high buildings of Downtown Pittsburgh to feel the sun in their noon hour. We believe that parks are the most democratic spaces, and if you find a quiet bench to observe Mellon Square at lunch, there really is no more vivid picture that this is true. As I watch I imagine each of these stranger’s stories. The business tycoon sits eating his tuna salad in Armani a few feet from the man who empties his trash. They smile at each other when they have to duck to avoid a bloated pigeon as it carelessly flaps by them from a tree to the fountain ledge. Three women sit together in their burgundy hotel uniforms, speaking in a language that the college kid a few feet away from them snapping photos doesn’t understand. Each of them has found their own space, simultaneously enjoying the brightest part of their day.
Here at the Parks Conservancy, it goes without saying that we love Mellon Square. Each restoration we undertake is a work of passion, fueled by the genuine desire to see our beloved city flourish, but it’s the people who visit it every day who are the Square’s most avid fans. We had put up a banner and a stage, complete with neat rows of white chairs in front of it. Many of those who entered the Square as part of their sunny day routine gave the set up a startled look and settled in an area where they could look on protectively as they chewed their food. We began to approach these people with our colorful informational flyers. “Do you come here a lot?” I would ask. Most would answer, “yes.” When I explained why we were there, I could see the stress leave their faces; we were there to help.
I noticed many of these onlookers stayed to hear the presentation long after their lunch bags had emptied. “To be a competitive city, you have to provide and maintain high-quality public spaces,” Booker pointed out from the stage. Indeed, the completed restoration of Mellon Square is projected to increase the real estate value of buildings within 500 feet of the urban park by 71 to 106 million dollars, and increase annual consumer expenditures in the area by more than 2.5 million dollars. Mayor Ravenstahl pointed out that the construction of the Square was a central project to Pittsburgh’s dramatic Renaissance I following World War II. The start of this restoration could be a part of the city’s next big move as “we are embarking upon what we believe is our third renaissance,” Mayor Ravenstahl said.
The first phase of the project is dedicated to the once breath-taking Cascade Fountain, staircases, lighting, plantings, and a new terrace overlooking Smithfield Street. In addition to adding some more green to Downtown’s pavement palette, the terrace and its adjoining green roof will increase the usable space of the square by 15 percent. So while we may disrupt the square for a little while, we will as always leave something a little more lush in our footsteps.
Kathleen McGuire is a Development Associate for the PPC
Photos by John Altdorfer
Read more about the Mellon Square Restoration at www.pittsburghparks.org/mellonsquare. And check out photos from the groundbreaking at www.flickr.com/photos/pghparks. Like our facebook page to follow our progress at http://www.facebook.com/mellonsquare