Holiday lights will return to E. Carson, after construction
December 4, 2018
South Side will be a little less festive this holiday season without the snowflake lights decorating East Carson Street, but not because of a lack of desire on the part of the South Side Chamber of Commerce.
Most years since the 1960s the South Side business and residential communities have come together to light up the neighborhood's main street with holiday lights. This year the poles will be dark due to the upcoming construction on East Carson Street.
Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, said the city informed the Chamber earlier in the year they wouldn't be granted a permit to put up the holiday lights this year.
Emily Gaspich, project manager in the city's Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), confirmed the Chamber was advised not to apply for the permit for holiday lighting.
She explained the project was anticipated to be under construction by September of this year, but significant delays caused the start date to be pushed back.
Only one-third of the property owners on East Carson responded to DOMI's request for access to their underground sidewalk vaults. The vaults extend from the buildings beneath the sidewalk.
Because of the lack of access, DOMI had to change the design strategy and push back the start date.
District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus said he is as "disappointed as anyone" the holiday lights won't be going up this year. He mentioned fond memories of the star-shaped lights that decorated East Carson for many holiday seasons.
But borrowing an old PENN DOT phrase, it will be a "temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement."
As part of the East Carson Street renovations, the new pedestrian light poles being installed will also be wired for holiday lights.
According to Roberta Smith, editor emeritus of The South Pittsburgh Reporter, in the early 60s, Dick Wells, a teacher on sabbatical working to organize the South Side business community, proposed to and then raised money to light Carson during the holiday season.
Through the years a variety of campaigns were used to raise funds for the project. In the late 1970s residents were asked to donate $2 each and businesses $15 each to cover the $7,000 cost at the time of purchasing the lights and having them installed for the season.
The early 2000s saw a successful 11th hour televised appeal from the Chamber asking for donations to put up the lights. In recent years, South Side community groups were asked to contribute.
As a past-president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce Mr. Kraus is aware of the struggles there have been in raising the money needed to place the lights each year and he may have a sustainable solution. He is exploring the possibility of using South Side Parking Enhancement District (PED) funding for holiday lighting expenses.
Mr. Kraus said he would like PED money used to purchase quality holiday light fixtures, have them put up, taken down each year and stored in the off-season, relieving the Chamber of the financial burden. Although he would like to see a return to the old star lights, the councilman said there would be a community process, possibly as early as the spring, involved in the selection.
Currently, the PED has provided additional city surveillance cameras for South Side requested by the Public Safety Director. The fund has also been used to pay for the clean team sweeping, power washing and weeding East Carson.
The PED directs on-street metered parking money, after 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to only be used to benefit the neighborhood. The councilman cautioned with the construction on East Carson street there may be a temporary decrease of metered parking spaces and with it a decrease in PED revenue.
Ms. Gaspich explained the city now has a low bidder for the required work, but the contractor has to go before the Equal Opportunity Review Commission before the contract can be awarded and notice to proceed. Once the contractor is given notice to proceed, they will be submitting shop drawings and ordering materials in January and February to be ready for the March 2019 start of physical work (construction).
"Our contract will require that the contract be complete for November 2019, so there will be holiday decorations next year," she added.