By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

McKinley Park in store for a bit of a makeover


September 7, 2010

Parks Conservancy looks at options

"We are here to talk about the beautification of McKinley Park," said William Bucky Stephens to kick off an Aug. 31 meeting to discuss park restoration, which the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is partnering with the city to tackle.

The meeting drew about 65 people to the McKinley Senior Citizen Center on Delmont Ave.

The meeting was conducted by city Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who represents the park in Beltzhoover. Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents Belzthoover, was in attendance. He would comment later he hoped residents regarded the districting as positive: having two council members represent them.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy staff: Meg Cheever, president and CEO; Richard Reed, executive vice president and COO; and Bill Ferguson, development officer, were also present.

Mr. Stephens said ever since a group toured the park in the spring, he has been "pestering" Mr. Kraus for a meeting such as was being held that evening.

Ms. Rudiak said while the non-profit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has focused traditionally on regional parks, it is spreading out and looking at South Pittsburgh, such as McKinley Park.

Tonight's meeting was aimed at collecting attendees' ideas on conducting outreach to the community about the park, and to share planning and funding information.

She said future meetings will also be held on the public process related to McKinley Park. She then asked attendees to identify themselves, and state their reasons for attending the meeting.

Responses to her request included: wanting to restore the park to how they remembered it as children; seeking a nice place for local children to play; to get the city to maintain it properly, such as removing the high weeds; beautification and maintenance issues; safety at the park; addressing the neglected ball fields; and eliminating it as an illegal dump site.

"It is time for talking to stop, and to get to work," concluded a resident.

Ms. Cheever gave an overview of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which she formed to clean up and beautify Schenley Park.

After Schenley Park, efforts were directed at Frick, Highland, and Riverview parks. Completed projects include the Highland Park entry garden, and the park in front of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.

Ms. Cheever said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl encouraged the conservancy to work elsewhere in the city.

She said she does not know much about McKinley Park, "but it sounds like a treasure."

"If we all get together, we will see progress," she said.

Next year, the conservancy will be 15 years old. During that time, volunteers raised $48 million.

As for McKinley Park funding, the conservancy will receive a matching grant of $75,000 for the park's rehabilitation if it can raise $75,000 on its own, bringing the total funding to $150,000.

The grant is from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program through the efforts of state Rep. Jake Wheatley.

The conservancy is currently seeking contributions in an effort to raise the $75,000. The deadline is Oct. 1.

Ms. Cheever said letters would be sent to the community about the need for donations. Information will also be posted on the website. Corporations and foundations will also be tapped for help.

The conservancy does not receive city or Regional Asset District (RAD) funding, she said.

To a question of whether the $75,000 will be spent on the Bon Air part of the park, Ken Wolfe, from Rep. Wheatley's office, said the money is only for the 19th District, of which Bon Air is not part. Residents agreed that they want the Beltzhoover side of the park to be the focus.

A resident said he would be "appalled" if the project took place on the Bon Air side. "We have been neglected too long," he said.

Mr. Wolfe said he "guaranteed" the money would go to the Beltzhoover side.

"When I promise things, I deliver," he said.

An attendee said priorities needed to be set. Gardeners, landscapers, designers and others in the community should be consulted on projects.

Ms. Cheever said the first project should be a showcase work for everyone to see to call attention to the project.

Ms. Rudiak suggested restoring one stone entrance, using stone masons and quality sign makers.

An attendee commented that all local meetings are held in the senior citizen center and its park entrance is probably the most visible, therefore a good starting point.

Another attendee said someone should find out how much all three entrances will cost to restore, and go from there. It is not just the wall that is important, she said, but also the surrounding greenery and landscape.

Ms. Cheever said the conservancy will work on ideas while raising money for the matching grant.

Ms. Rudiak concluded the meeting by saying the city is undertaking a massive parks and recreation plan for all parks, open space, trails, and more. A meeting on the plan is scheduled for 4-6 p.m. on Sept. 30 at a site to be determined.

She urged everyone to attend.


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