Collier’s Weekly: A Bad Place for Some Condos

Whatever the merits of a proposed condominium complex in Frick Park, it can’t be called a necessary development.
Forward Avenue Rendering Courtesy Indovina Associates Architects


Real-estate development is never a necessity.

While people do need affordable places to live, the kind of work we mean when we talk broadly about development — large-scale construction projects designed as investments and economic movers — often has little or nothing to do with truly affordable housing. That sort of development is about generating cash for developers and investors and, ideally, giving a handful of relatively well-off people a new house in the process.

So it’s a good thing if you’re a wealthy developer, and in some circumstances, it can be a positive for a given group of residents. It is not, however, a necessity.

And if yard signs start popping up about your development plan, it might be better to just go somewhere else.

A controversial development plan seeks to turn the blighted former Irish Centre of Pittsburgh into a 160-unit condominium complex. The plan, which would require at least two variances from the city to even go into motion, has been derided by neighbors and park advocates, who see it as a threat to the character and peace of Frick Park.

I’m not an expert on such matters, and I can’t weigh in on the geological and environmental realities of the project; the developers have noted that they would be replacing a dangerous building in such a way that would actually improve runoff in the area, which could well be the case. I’m also wary of blanket opposition to new construction; there are many cases where “not in my backyard” types have opposed progress and housing in their areas simply because they don’t want to be bothered.

This isn’t one of those cases, however. This is throwing a condominium complex into the middle of Frick Park for no reason other than to make a short list of people some money.

When I say in the middle of Frick Park, I mean in the middle of Frick Park. While the Irish Centre property is technically outside of the park’s limits, that’s only true because the park carves out a wild swath of land to make room for it; it’s a bizarre cut-out of the park’s natural borders.

This isn’t a property that should become a different type of building; it’s a property that should be folded back into the park, a fact that’s clear to anyone with a map. Are there logistical challenges with getting that land clear, safe and re-integrated into the park around it? Sure.

Are those logistical challenges more daunting than the challenges associated with building 160 condominiums? Absolutely not.

In the best of circumstances, the impact on the long-term enjoyment and character of the park would be minimal. Even in those circumstances, however, the park would be disrupted for years with the burdens and risks of construction. Frick Park is one of the city’s crown jewels, a treasure that should be preserved and expanded. A condominium complex is just a condominium complex, no matter its merits — which, under this proposal, seem limited.

In short, there are plenty of places to put some condos; there’s only one Frick Park, and it’s far more important to the city.

Just build the thing elsewhere.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly