PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A chain link fence now shuts the public off from a green oasis along Smithfield Street that became a tent city for Occupy Pittsburgh last fall, but now the park is coming back.
BNY Mellon officials, who would not appear on camera, say the park will be restored by the end of the year at a cost of $450,000 to the bank, and reopened to the public with one big difference.
“Had a briefing and they told us about their plans to build a gate around the park,” says John Valentine, a member of the city’s Planning Commission that must approve the design.
BNY Mellon plans to build a three-foot high post and chain fence with entry gates that can be locked at night.
“Do you think it’s being gated to keep out certain people?” KDKA’s Jon Delano asked Valentine.
“Well, I asked that question yesterday, and they told us no; so, my inclination is to take them at their word,” Valentine said.
But nobody is surprised if the bank wants to minimize another occupation.
Besides constructing a fence to deter future occupations, BNY Mellon is going to change the contour of the park, making it more hilly to make it harder to pitch a tent.
Susan Rademacher, parks curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, says gated parks were popular in the 19th century.
“The gates and the walls were there to say this was a special place and to help separate you from the city,” says Rademacher.
Much less common today, Heinz Hall Park is one of the few gated parks in the city.
Valentine says he has mixed feelings.
“There’s a part of me that says this is private land and they have the right to do what they want,” he said. “But there’s also a part of me that wants to make sure that the residents of Pittsburgh get to use this beautiful park.”