public art in uptown?

Could public art, including a lighted installation near the light rail transit line, better trash pickup and lower rents make Uptown more attractive to businesses and patrons? A newly completed strategic plan says it could.

Consultants from Environmental Planning & Design compiled the $14,090 study, spearheaded by a steering committee of members from the Mt. Lebanon Partnership, the planning board and business owners, as well as Keith McGill, former municipal planner and current municipal manager, and Eric Milliron, commercial districts manager.

Although the plan says Mt. Lebanon residents love Uptown (the central business district between Rollier’s Hardware and Washington School on Washington Road), such challenges as high rents for businesses, litter on sidewalks and in planters, the lack of an identity, programming that needs improving and bland landscaping may be keeping the area from achieving its full potential.

“Though the corridor’s past and current highest priorities and functions are to serve as a central point of local business, municipal outreach and community life, it has the potential to attract visitors from far and wide,” the introduction says. “Collectively, responding to these audiences represents the opportunity to embrace the corridor’s past successes and to reinforce an enlivened vibrancy for Mt. Lebanon.”

Among the objectives:

  • Enhance the pedestrian experience
  • Connect to the larger metro area through bikeways
  • Maintain good mix of retail shops, restaurants and professional offices
  • Attract quality businesses to make Mt. Lebanon a destination
  • Promote vibrancy in the district by extending the presence of retail, eating establishments and residential land use
  • Provide amenities that encourage patrons to spend more time Uptown
  • Give the area a sense of place by promoting architectural features and a unified theme
  • Enhance programming
  • Do more to make Clearview Common (the parklet with the fountain on Alfred Street) a central gathering place
  • Consider using alleyways and service areas adjacent to Washington Road
  • Maintain the area and keep its appearance fresh

Specific ideas include using areas adjacent to restaurants for outdoor dining, making intersections safer through such concepts as painting and raising crosswalks to make them more visible, adding electronic signs near parking garages to display the number of vacant parking spaces, extending free parking times, branding Uptown as an arts district and including public art in the streetscape. One of the more colorful ideas is adding a light installation along Parse Way, under the parking garage near the light rail transit station. Hiding Dumpsters behind screens and using chain-link fence for other artwork could further enhance the area.

Milliron says some of these ideas could be relatively easily implemented, such as signs near the parking garages. But turning Parse Way into a sort of linear park would be more of a 3- to 10-year-long project.

washington rdEPD used several methods of outreach to collect public thoughts. EPD representatives attended last August’s First Friday and spoke with residents, business owners and restaurant patrons. A successful online survey, promoted by the public information office, received high participation—966 responses. Two public meetings garnered input from residents and business owners. Both Milliron and Public Information Officer Susan Morgans helped EPD evaluate challenges and opportunities in the district.

“Based on feedback received from members of the community through the public survey, residents of Mt. Lebanon envision that Uptown’s purpose moving forward will be to continue to provide the community access to retail, eateries, entertainment and professional and governmental services,” the report says.

Respondents said they support diverse businesses in Uptown; they walk or drive to get there, and they see Uptown as a benefit to both visitors and residents. Meeting attendees were concerned about affordability of rent for businesses. They expressed the need for pedestrian safety and lighting improvements, better trash pickup/control, streetscape maintenance and a better use of Parse Way.

The report praises Uptown in many ways, noting its “impressive 5 percent to 7 percent street level vacancy” which is low. But it notes several challenges, such as “having a balance of stores that are desired with the square-footage occupancy costs.”

The report also lists a few challenges. Among them: Solidify branding; maintain a good mix of businesses that people want with the operating hours that people need; ensure pedestrian and bicycle safety in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; support good development where possible given the built-out nature of the district; re-evaluate the use of Clearview Common (determine its function and increase programming); fix the misconception that there’s not enough parking; keeping the area clean and well-maintained.

The plan was to have gone to the Economic Development Council for its approval, followed by Commission review in March. We’ll post updates at as they are proposed.