Mayor to move station from South Side Flats to former youth hostel building on Hilltop
Zone 3 police will soon be based in a new location when the station is moved from Mary Street on the South Side Flats to the former youth hostel building at the intersection of Arlington and Warrington avenues in Allentown.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl brought Hilltop community leaders and media together on Friday afternoon on short notice to make the announcement. On the sidewalk in front of the new location, the mayor outlined his three-prong plan to help the crime plagued neighborhoods on the Hilltop.
The mayor plans to continue the saturation patrols on the Hilltop that were instituted after several shootings in Mount Washington. The patrols, which have been operating three days a week on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, will be increased to seven days a week.
"It's clear [we have] to do more every day of the week," Mr. Ravenstahl said. He added that the police's Street Response Unit has been and will continue to participate in the saturation patrols.
The second prong will be to enforce the curfew for youth beginning January 1, 2009. According to the mayor, before the city can enforce the curfew, they must first identify a location for the curfew center and a "proactive organization" willing to operate the center.
Without a monitored curfew center the police are unable to pick up the youngsters who are out in the middle of the night.
The third prong, the moving of Zone 3 headquarters to the Hilltop location, will also take place on January 1, 2009.
Mayor Ravenstahl said the community has been advocating for the reuse of the building since the hostel left in October of 2003 and that the city had been looking at relocating the police station.
Calling the former hostel building a "more centralized location" the mayor said moving the station would "create a presence in the Hilltop." To accommodate the Zone 3 Police Station the city will have to "retro fit" the building, but the mayor feels it could easily be converted for a minimal cost.
Currently, the Urban Redevelopment Authority owns the building and the mayor feels property could be transferred for "a dollar."
Approximately 10 years ago the building underwent nearly $1.5 million in updates and renovations to convert the building from a bank into a youth hostel. Renovations included new mechanics and the addition of an elevator in the four-story building.
Mayor Ravenstahl said the FOP is "cautiously optimistic" about the move into the building. The city is also exploring adding additional parking in the neighborhood for the station.
"I can't say this is a good decision or a bad decision," Councilman Bruce A. Kraus said. "I played no role in this decision."
He was concerned that moving the station could pit neighborhood against neighborhood and become a divisive issue.
"It's not a bricks and mortar issue, it's about consistant management in the commander's office," he continued. The councilman also expressed concerns that the staffing levels of Zone 3 aren't high enough for the number of neighborhoods in the zone.
"No mater where that station is [located], no one neighborhood is going to get more services than another." Mr. Kraus stated.
The current station on the South Side was recently the object of a safety inspection by the State Department of Labor and Industry instigated by new Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly. The building has had problems with plumbing, overcrowding and a lack of male and female locker rooms. There have also been unconfirmed reports that there are additional problems with asbestos and lead contamination in the station.
Mayor Ravenstahl said there are no plans for the building once the police are transferred out January 1 and the move to the Hilltop will not initiate a redrawing of existing police zones in the city. He added that the fire station that shares a portion of the building will remain for now.
"We have to restore peace to Pittsburgh," the mayor said. "We have to take back the Hilltop neighborhoods."
Judy Hackel, president of the Allentown Community Development Corp. (ACDC), thanked "everyone that has listened to us." The ACDC first proposed moving Zone 3 headquarters to the Hilltop to the Murphy Administration four years ago. The proposal was also circulated to Mayor Bob O'Connor, three police commanders and then District 3 councilman Jeff Koch.
Mayor Ravenstahl said he was unaware of the proposal and investigated the former youth hostel site as one of several he was seriously considering for the past month or so.
"You look at location," he said. "When you look at the entire scope of Zone 3, this is a better location."
"I'm proud to see that the emphasis isn't on the South Side, but the Hilltop," said Sharon Daniels, executive director of My Brother's Keeper. "I think this is one of the most brilliant things the city can do, to bring the police up here."
"The criminals in the Hilltop neighborhoods need to know we're not going to take it anymore," the mayor said.