Charles Street mystery development

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Given the contentious sparring over inclusion of African-American workers on the K. Leroy Irvis Science Building project, when the Courier learned of a construction project on the North Side that was employing a large number of Black laborers, inquiries were made to the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

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GONE GREEN—A section of Charles Street on Pittsburgh’s North Side once filled with houses is now empty and slated to remain vacant by design as “green space.” (Photo by J.L. Martello)

A large swath of land, containing several blocks of houses on Charles Street has been entirely cleared and graded from Brighton road to just below the Gibson Green development. Graded for what? When first asked, no one seemed to know entirely.

Chuck Powell, who was away from the office attending to a sick relative, nonetheless retuned an email inquiry saying he was aware of the work going on and suggested contacting Colette O’Leary in the real estate department. She knew nothing of the project.

“The only thing we have going on the North Side is the Federal Hill project on Federal and Alpine Streets,” she said. “There is no project on Charles Street.”

Powell drove her over to Charles Street.

“I asked her the same thing and got the same answer, so I drove her over and said, ‘see, look at this,’ and she said she knew nothing about it,” he said.

When asked who would have awarded the contracts for demolition and site preparation, Powell said the authority would have—but there doesn’t seem to be any such contract.

“I can’t find any development contract for that site. There’s nothing that says it was put out for bid,” he said. “There is no project slated for that site that I can find.”

Authority Executive Director Rob Stephany was not available for comment by Courier deadline.

So, what is it? Is it some kind of “green” project? Is the city now clearing land on spec, for any commercial developer, rather than for specific URA directed projects? Allegheny County has done so in the past, reclaiming brownfield sites. But those were for mostly light industrial purposes. This is a residential neighborhood.

Will Thompkins, director of Community outreach for the Pittsburgh Project, who grew up on Charles Street, and whose mother still lives there, said he is saddened by changes.

“I can put a face to almost every home that’s been demolished. It was a bustling community,” he said. “It’s sad because it reminds me of the ‘urban renewal’ of the 1960s. As far as I know, it’s some kind of ‘green space’ neighborhood project out of the mayor’s office.”

Christie Berger, Mayor Ravenstahl’s neighborhood initiatives coordinator, did not respond to inquiries by Courier deadline.

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