South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

UPMC puts plans for S.S. hospital building on hold

COVID-19 disrupts plans for building reuse, amount of PED funds

 

August 4, 2020

UPMC photo courtesy of Margaret Bell

Currently, due to COVID-19, UPMC has put any plans for the former South Side Hospital building on hold. The building and parking lot are now being used only for COVID-19 testing.

Updates on COVID-19's local impact was the focus of the combined July-August meeting of the South Side Planning Forum on July 28.

The meeting was held as a Zoom video conference.

It began with an update on the UPMC South Side Outpatient Center complex renovation project by Margaret Bell, UMPC VP, Corporate Real Estate.

"I don't really have any big news for you," she said in light of COVID-19.

"We're not planning anything," she said of the future of the building until the pandemic is over.

A COVID testing unit is the only activity in the building at this time. There is also one in the parking lot for the building on Josephine Street.

The building's office space must eventually be discussed, she said, as people are discovering they like working from home. And, whatever makes them happy, makes us happy, she said.

Barbara Rudiak, of the South Side Community Council (SSCC), said a resident who walks daily by the COVID center reported she does not feel there is any identification directing people to the site.

The resident is stopped by people asking her if they are going in the right direction.

Ms. Bell said there is a sign on the building, but she would look into the matter as it would appear there is a need for additional signs.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said there has been a change in signage there.

"We can always use better signage," he said.

Regarding the building, Mr. Kraus said he received a commitment from UPMC before COVID that it would be utilized as an office building. An initial plan was that hundreds of UPMC information technology (IT) personnel and others would be moving into the building.

Mr. Kraus said he hopes it continues along the path of "repurpose," and it becomes a contributing structure to the neighborhood.

"Everybody's scrambling for what this new world order will look like," he said of post-COVID.

Ms. Rudiak said SSCC members are concerned if it is not utilized as an office building it could be knocked down and become, say, a storage facility?

"It's a big piece of property," she said, and it needs to become something else or sold.

"I promise to keep an eye on it," Mr. Kraus said.

 Next, Mr. Kraus and city nighttime economy coordinator Allison Harnden presented updates on the PED, the South Side Parking Enhancement District, which has taken a large financial hit with COVID-19 closures.

The PED is the enforcement of South Side Flats parking meters from 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. It began in April, 2017.

Before the pandemic, PED income averaged $4,000 per weekend, or about $15,000 per month. For the month of June, PED income totaled $8,019 as businesses were opening up and there were less restrictions.

But over the July 4 weekend, the total was $59.50 as businesses were forced to close again.

Over the past 17 weeks, revenue totaled $10,861.

The funds must be invested back in the neighborhood for public safety, cleanliness, and infrastructure improvements. The trust fund balance of the PED is currently $258,863.

The only submitted invoice was $11,023 for the Block by Block, or the Clean Team, retained to keep the E. Carson St. corridor maintained. It has two workers, or ambassadors, and costs about $11,000 per month.

The main daily focus has been East Carson St. between 10th and 25th streets, and the side streets about one block in both directions. 

Mr. Kraus said he wants to continue with the Clean Team especially during construction, and for the "act of faith" that things are getting better.

"We want very much to see restaurants return – close by eleven, and the sale of alcohol with a meal," he said.

He said the scary part is not knowing when overall alcohol sales will return; it could go to the end of the year before nightclubs open.

"Can they survive that long?" he said.

For now, he is glad there is a PED surplus and some weekend business.

While he wants to keep the Clean Team, they may have to "make some tough decisions" in January, he said.

He also suggested calling John Fournier, director of on-street and metered parking, and telling him the PED hit a rough spot, and maybe receive some revenue.

"We can show just cause and capacity," as there is a proven track record, Mr. Kraus said.

Ms. Rudiak thanked him for not spending the surplus funds when so many uses have been proposed by residents over the years.

As for the Clean Team, "we need to maintain that positive image," she said of visitors to the Flats.

In reports, Mark Bucklaw, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber office is closed to the public, but that executive director Candice Gonzalez comes in. But others cannot enter the building.

He reported that board meetings are held via Zoom, and grant information and other news is sent out as it arises.

In her report, Ms. Gonzalez said volunteers, which include university students, residents, and those assigned community service by the courts, are cleaning up side streets and addressing areas outside the Clean Team focus.

She is working to keep the Chamber website updated on COVID, grants, and other information. She is also helping businesses that are struggling to stay in business.

Ms. Gonzalez also reported there is clean-up equipment at the Welcome Center, some of which items were purchased by Duquesne University. Some were also bought with a URA grant.

The items are used during cleanups by volunteer residents and students.

In her report of the SSCC, Ms. Rudiak said residents are working to keep the side streets clean. An Ormsby Park cleanup occurred.

She also reported through South Watch, placards are being placed on doors, such as if a residence's trash is outside at all times. The offenders receive an orange placard on their door about the problem, and how to remedy.

She is also working with Tim Lewis, of Duquesne University, as some parties have occurred in which the students are on roofs that are not flat.

In his report of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA), board President Blake McLaren said StepTrek will consist of two routes and a third special route in honor of the event's 20th anniversary.

This will be the 20th year for StepTrek, the annual non-competitive, self-guided walking tour of the Slopes. This year, due to social distancing, the event will be week-long beginning on Oct. 3.

Sponsors like UPMC and others have signed on.

The SSSNA board will next reconvene in September.

Next, Kathy Hamilton-Vargo, pastor of South Side Presbyterian Church, reported the church has not held services in the building during COVID, but is conducting business via conference calls.

She is at the church a few days a week "helping cope with the stress and fear people have at this time," she said.

In other news, the annual Health and Wellness event conducted by state Rep. Jake Wheatley will instead be held as a virtual walk/run on Aug. 8. It will consist of running/walking and doing a check-in via social media to show that you are active.

For more information, email Chay Chaney at cchaney@pahouse.net .

The next Planning Forum meeting will be on Sept. 8.

 

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