Pittsburgh Mayor’s Plan to Take Properties for Redevelopment at Fifth & Forbes Is Derailed
In 1999, the City of Pittsburgh proposed a plan to redevelop the Fifth and Forbes district of downtown Pittsburgh. The project was endorsed by Mayor Tom Murphy and other city leaders and would have transferred ownership of the entire district to Urban Retail Properties, a Chicago developer. While the plan called for preserving some of the historic storefronts in the area, it did not call for preserving any of the small businesses in the area. The 64 buildings and 125 current businesses would have to make way for a movie theater complex and a giant Nordstrom department store, which would serve as anchors for the project.1 The plan recommended that the City use eminent domain to consolidate the land needed, but only as a “last resort.” However, owners of many of the targeted properties, who knew they did not want to move, understood that this meant that the City would condemn their businesses for transfer to the developer.2
For nearly a year, business owners rallied, circulated petitions, and spoke in every forum they could think of to object to the proposed confiscation of their businesses. Among those who were committed to their locations were George Harris, Bonnie Klein and Patty Maloney. Harris owns a florist shop, now in operation for 100 years. Klein and her husband run a camera repair store, and Maloney and her family operate a card and gift shop, which has already been forced to relocate once for a development plan. Members of the community like Bernie Lynch were shocked by the City’s plans to take property for a private developer.3 They joined with the owners to form a new community development corporation, which then put forward an alternate redevelopment plan that did not involve condemnation.4 The Institute for Justice promised to represent the owners if the City did decide to condemn their businesses and worked closely with them in opposing the proposed condemnations.
After an entire year of controversy about the project and condemnations, Nordstrom abruptly pulled out of the project, taking with it the developer and movie theater. Murphy agreed that the project should be shelved.5 The owners breathed a sigh of relief, and the City went back to the drawing board.
Finally, in March 2002, another planning group, formed after the demise of the Urban Retail project, announced the Market Square Plan for Fifth and Forbes, a development featuring retail stores, office buildings, new apartments, a hotel and public marketplace, and parking facilities. Three members of the mayor’s thirteen-member task force that came up with the new plan recommended that eminent domain be completely off the table, a move lauded by Fifth and Forbes property owners.6 The Mayor has said that the project will go forward without eminent domain.7 And of course, that’s what the owners have wanted all along.8
1 E.g., Tom Barnes, “Fifth/Forbes Clears a Big Hurdle,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 24, 1999, at A1.
2 Tom Barnes, “Downtown Group Ends Fifth and Forbes Talks Without a Firm Position,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 14, 2000, at C3.
3 E.g., Dan Fitzpatrick, “Lay of the Land,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 19, 1999, at F1; Tom Barnes, Fifth/Forbes Property Owners Hire a Lawyer,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1999, at A1.
4 E.g., Patricia Lowry, “A Blueprint for Downtown,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2000, at E1.
5 Tom Barnes & Dan Fitzpatrick, “Nordstrom, Urban Retail, Theater Out and Murphy’s Ready to Compromise; Downtown Plans Start Over,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 23, 2000, at A1.
6 Tom Barnes, “Brand New Plan for Fifth—Forbes; Stores, Offices, Housing in a $363 Million Mix,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 8, 2002, at A1.
7 Tom Barnes, “URA Targets Fifth-Forbes Buildings,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 12, 2002, at D3.
8 Ann Belser, “Udin Urged to Abandon Eminent Domain,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 23, 2000, at C2.