PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was supposed to be the jewel in downtown Pittsburgh — a place to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or something to eat from the surrounding eateries — but local merchants say that, increasingly, Market Square has been taken over.
“The point of the tables wasn’t for some people to come early in the morning, grab a table, set up camp, and not leave until 8, 9 o’clock at night,” says Mike Mitcham, a founder of the Market Square Merchants Association.
Mitcham says the problem has gotten worse.
“It seems like they’re bringing suitcases, they’re bringing coolers, and they’re just camping out for the rest of the day,” Mitcham told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Friday.
Adding to the problem is the growing use of drugs — and even drug deals — in Market Square, says Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala.
“We had a lot of people hanging out in Market Square that were neither engaging the merchants or being good citizens of the city, so to speak,” said Zappala.
Zappala said last year they made 150 drug arrests, up from 91 the year before, and they’re not arresting everyone.
“I think we could make a lot more.”
Many merchants in Market Square have put in their own tables and chairs where they can control who sits there, but that really doesn’t solve the problem for the many others who would like to bring their carryout lunches and sit in Market Square without worry about other issues.
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has decided to put out tables and chairs for lunch only, between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Reactions were mixed.
“I think that’s no because people sit out there in the morning and have coffee. It’s not just lunch,” says Tracy Santicola of Moon.
“We should have tables for people to sit out and enjoy themselves without worrying about drug dealing,” says Brenda Banks of Robinson.
The problem at Market Square is obvious to many.
“People are just sitting there all day. You come through a couple times a day and the same people are sitting in the same spots, so yeah there’s a problem,” says Jim Coyne of Shaler.
Zappala says, as a consequence, the drug use and dealing there has gotten worse.
The Market Square Merchants Association supports the plan.
“I don’t think it’s a solution to the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction,” says Mitcham.
Mayor Peduto is not so sure.
“It’s not about tables. The tables aren’t causing a disruption. It’s about when people become intoxicated and become either loud or get into physical altercations,” says the mayor.
Market Square merchants say a greater police presence would help.
“Years ago we used to have a beat cop. He knew certain individuals on the Square that would be up to no good,” notes Mitcham.
That could happen again, especially with a new police zone downtown.
“What we would look at is having a North Shore, Strip District, Downtown, Southside zone to be able to deal with the fluctuations that happen with heavy weekend, heavy nighttime enforcement,” said Peduto.
Peduto thinks this year at Market Square will not be a repeat of the last.
“I think the increased police presence that you’re seeing downtown has had an effect.”