Above: Allegheny Commons bloomed this year. (Photo by Kelsey Shea)

by Kelsey Shea

Friends of Allegheny Commons and other Northsiders interested in the park, gathered last night at Babb Inc., for the first annual Allegheny Commons Community Update.

The first community update was hosted by the Allegheny Commons Initiative and focused on the current state of Allegheny Commons Park and offered a glimpse into the its future.

“What’s really important is getting people out to visit the parks, enjoy the parks” said Allegheny Commons Project Director Alida Baker. “We want people using 3-1-1 to report problems and we want to attract great programing.”

The event was hosted in the historic Babb Insurance Inc. building on Ridge Avenue, which was a mansion on millionaire row at the turn of the century.

Food was donated by El Burro, Legends of the North Shore, Monterey Pub, James Street Gastropub, the Modern Café, the Priory and Buena Vista Coffee.

“Allegheny City” coauthors Dan Rooney and Carol Peterson attended the event and spoke about their new book, which chronicles the history of the Northside and touches on the history of the park.

After Peterson and Rooney gave their presentation, Baker gave a brief update on the park and invited participants to visit different stations which had information on a variety of projects.

Members of the Allegheny Commons Initiative board discussed key projects with those in attendance and asked for feedback.

Tables focused on projects and issues like  the Lake Elizabeth pedestrian bridge design, the W. Ohio Street bridge project, the North East Fountain reestablishment, tree care, walking clubs, park tours and a new project that will place QR codes around the park that can be scanned with smartphones.

“We want to hear what you think,” said Baker.

“I’m really pleased that neighbors have come out to work towards this cause,” said Allegheny West resident Fran Barbush who attended the update.

In the next year Baker explained that the two most prominent projects will be the raising of the W. Ohio Street Bridge as well as the reestablishment of the North East Fountain, which the Allegheny Commons Initiative hopes to complete by early 2014.

The city plans to raise the W. Ohio Street bridge three feet to accommodate double stacked trains that run on the tracks underneath it, but the Allegheny Commons Initiative and Northside residents worry that doing so will drastically alter the topography of the land and negatively impact the park.

Baker said she is waiting on plans and designs from the city, but says she is not anticipating good news. She encouraged those attending to appeal to their city council representative on behalf of the park.

“It’s a big deal, and I don’t know how it will turn out,” she said. “We didn’t choose this initiative. We’re just dealing with it.”

Unlike the bridge project, Baker said that the fountain project is just a simple matter of money. To restore the fountain Allegheny Commons Initiative is looking to raise $2.2 million this year.

The Initiative plans to reestablish the North East Fountain across from Allegheny General Hospital as a community resource with a circular water fountain, landscaping and seating and restore lighting and walkways along W. North Avenue.

Once the walkways, fountain and lighting project is complete, the goals for 2016-2019 will be to redesign the area of the park around Lake Elizabeth and replace the pedestrian bridge.

For those interested in getting involved or supporting the organization, the Allegheny Commons Initiative has a Friends Program that allows businesses, individuals and residents invest in the park with tax deductible donations.

Friends members receive seasonal guided tours of the parks, and memberships can be gifted.

For more information, go to www.alleghenycommons.org.