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Above: The newly completed Washburn Square Park includes three single-family homes and nearly an acre of open green space. (Photo by Kelsey Shea)
When Brightwood Civic Group Director Diane Annis-Dixon cut the ribbon at Brightwood’s Washburn Square Park on Monday, she finished a project her mother, Carol Dixon, helped start 15 years earlier.
On Monday, the BCG, City, Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Northside Leadership Conference celebrated the official opening of Washburn Square Park, which includes three new homes and an open greenspace between Superior Avenue and Hodgkiss Street in Brightwood.
“This project started 15 years ago, when the Brightwood Civic Group was just a couple of women who wanted to do something nice for the kids,” said Annis-Dixon. “One of those women was my mother.”
About 25 people gathered at the corner of the new lawn for the ribbon cutting celebrating the completion of a project Annis-Dixon said her mother thought she wouldn’t live to see finished. Annis-Dixon’s mother and two other original BCG members who planned Washburn Square died before the $3.1 million dollar project was completed.
The roughly one acre site of Washburn Square Park formerly housed 46 row houses, many of which were dilapidated and vacant.
“It’s hard to imagine 46 houses on this site,” said David Howe manager of the URA’s Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp., looking over the grassy lawn.
City Council President Darlene Harris and Annis-Dixon both said they hoped to host movie in the park events at Washburn Square Park in the future.
The BCG’s original plan for Washburn Square was to replace the 46 row houses with 17 new homes, but after a study found that 17 homes would have been difficult to sell, the URA adjusted the plan to include only three homes and green space for the neighborhood.
Howe called the project’s incorporation of green space rather than residences “a different kind of economic development,” one that he hopes to see replicated throughout the city.
According to Annis-Dixon, funding, asbestos and remaining tenets in the row houses were causes for the 15-year delay.
Nearly 20 people still lived in the Washburn complex as late as 2007, former BCG director Ed Brandt said. Because the project received federal funding, project managers NLC had to help the tenants find new housing.
When the row houses were vacated, the BCG ran into more problems with the asbestos-filled buildings, which needed studied and removed before demolition.
During the study and removal, which ultimately cost more than the demolition itself, the BCG ran out of money.
“The neighborhood begged every entity possible,” said Annis-Dixon, reflecting on the funding difficulties. The BCG went to then City Councilman, Luke Ravenstahl and former State Rep. Don Walko, who both found money to continue the project.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was scheduled to attend the ribbon cutting, but was unable to make it, though a representative from his office noted his continual support of the project.
The three newly constructed three-bedroom houses at Washburn Square each sold before the project was completed for $135,000 each.