January 15, 2008 |

Forum will have input into any sale of vacant South Vo-Tech building

Details on a role by the South Side Planning Forum in the bidding process on the sale of the South Vo-Tech building highlighted the Jan. 8 meeting.

Richard Fellers, the Pittsburgh Public Schools' chief operations officer, said the minimum acceptable bid on the building is $500,000. Bids are due by Jan. 29.

Mr. Fellers said the bids, which are public documents, will be available to the forum for review. The forum can then make recommendations to bidders, and relay the forum's assessment to the school board before the board makes its decision.

The forum can also inform the board of problems the potential intended use will have regarding zoning and more.

"It gives you input into our board," he said.

The board is hindered, he said, in that according to law, the district must accept the highest responsible bid or reject all bids.

The forum's review of the bids would have to be completed before the Feb. 27 school board meeting.

A round of bidding two years ago garnered no bids. At that time, the minimum bid was set at $1.5 million.

The building has no parking, and requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in asbestos abatement.

The South Vo-Tech building is one of 22 closed schools the district is hoping to sell. It costs the district $1 million annually just to maintain them.

He said the district hopes to make the sale of the South Vo-Tech a model for the remaining 21 buildings by producing a sale "compatible with community interests."

It is a challenge, however, as the school code is designed to garner maximum dollars and not a better use for the community, such as profit versus non-profit.

On the topic of the South Side Neighborhood Plan update, forum Chair Hugh Brannan said he hopes by March a consensus will be reached and a final document approved.

Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Company, said implementation will be the next step. To that end, he introduced Jo DeBolt, of consultants La Piana Associates, Inc., in Oakland.

Mr. Belloli explained the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, as lead funder of the South Side LDC, was making technical assistance available to the forum for the implementation phase of the neighborhood plan. Ms. DeBolt is under contract with the PPND.

She will work with the forum as a group, and with issues of clarity among organizations. She will also help form a coalition among groups in the South Side, East End and Oakland.

All three neighborhoods applied to the PPND for this phase of program assistance.

The three areas have a lot of community organizations which work together, said Mr. Belloli.

The areas also deal with similar issues of public safety, code enforcement, neighborhood development, graffiti and more.

The forum meeting began with a presentation on the South Side Community Council's Graffiti Watch, which aims to work with community members to remove and prevent graffiti on the South Side. Graffiti Watch was established in June, 2007.

Its committee members include city Councilman Bruce Kraus, and representatives from the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, South Side Community Council, and Pennsylvania Resources Council; board members from the South Side LDC and Brashear Association; and South Side residents.

"We can't do it alone," said Steve Root. "We all need to work together and engage in sustained effort to stay on top of it."

The group works with Graffiti Busters and the Graffiti Task Force.

Mr. Root was joined by Sarah Alessio, of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, Inc., located on South 14th St. PRC is one of the state's oldest citizen action environmental organizations. It works to bring people, businesses, and government together to prevent and solve environmental problems.

The next Graffiti Watch meeting will be on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Brashear Center. Everyone is welcome.

In other news, volunteers are sought to help with the planning, organizing, and staffing of potential South Side activities during Pittsburgh's 250th Anniversary celebration in 2008.

On June 28, the "American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5" bike race will pass through the South Side.

Event organizers plan to bring the cyclists and their crews to the neighborhood, with related activities to take place at the new American Eagle Corporate Headquarters and throughout the SouthSide Works.

All other activities designed to showcase the Historic District must be organized by South Side residents, businesses, and organizations.

In Dec., 2007, a meeting was held with representatives from the South Side Community Council, South Side Chamber of Commerce, and the South Side LDC. It served as a brainstorming session for ideas for activities on, and leading up to, June 28.

Possible lead-up activities include a regional promotions campaign; resident and business orientations about plans for the race day; neighborhood beautification; and sale of memorabilia.

Possible race day activities include an emphasis on family-friendly; closing East Carson St. from 10th St. to 29th St. from noon to 9 p.m.; and an arts and crafts market.

Geof Comings, business development manager for the South Side LDC, emphasized none of the above activities can occur without volunteers. Contact him at 412-481-0651, X 15, to become involved in the event.

The next forum meeting will be on Feb. 12.

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