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Release Date: Friday, April 8th 2011

Tribune-Review: Murphy's folly lives on; Market Square thrives

Murphy's folly lives on; Market Square thrives

By Eric Heyl
Friday, April 8, 2011

For those with a taste for irony, the timing is chocolate-cake delicious.

People crowded into Market Square on Thursday to kick off the outdoor-dining season in the square's sterling new $5 million piazza. The mild temperatures and the Pirates home opener brought out folks in (no pun intended) scores.

Meanwhile, former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy, who once nearly succeeded in turning this unique urban area into antiseptic suburban space, was advocating similar silliness in Quincy, Mass.

More on him in a bit. First, back to the square.

"As the weather warms up, I think you're going to see more and more people discover how gorgeous it is down here now," predicted Zach Winghart, who owns Winghart's Burger & Whiskey Bar, tucked away in a corner of the square.

It's a local historical footnote that Famous Footwear and similar mall staples were penciled in for the square once most of its buildings were bulldozed. But the plan was a flashpoint of controversy when Murphy pitched it in the late 1990s.

Where others saw architecturally significant structures worthy of preservation, Murphy saw impediments to his vision. He viewed them as irritating stumbling blocks to turning Market Square and several dilapidated Downtown blocks into the Scorched Earth Mall.

Just a few of the plan's more bewildering aspects:

• Despite the demise of every Downtown movie theater during the 1970s and early '80s, Murphy wanted to put a multiplex on the site of the vacant G.C. Murphy store.

• Murphy favored razing the venerable Original Oyster House, a Pittsburgh landmark, to make room for a Dave & Busters. The vast restaurant and entertainment arcade eventually settled for space in the more big-box friendly environment of The Waterfront in Homestead.

The mall idea collapsed when Nordstrom pulled out of the project. The upscale department store correctly realized Ross Park Mall was a far more logical location for a Pittsburgh store than the heart of Downtown.

Years later, Murphy still hasn't realized the folly of such scorched-earth proposals.

In The New York Times on Wednesday, he endorsed Quincy's risky desire to level 50 acres of prime Downtown property to build a $289 million development with housing, retail and offices. Sound familiar?

Murphy, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, enthusiastically told The Times it would be a "game changer" if the Quincy project succeeds.

The game never needed altering at the Oyster House, which was steadily busy yesterday. So was Winghart's, which opened barely two months ago in a space that well could have housed a small T.G.I. Friday's if Murphy had his way.

"I don't know what it was like back then (in the '90s)," Winghart said. "But I think people are sick of the chain places. I think they're increasingly attracted to places that have their own personality, their own soul."

The new piazza and businesses such as Winghart's ringing it have those qualities in abundance.

There's no way they would be there, had the malling of Market Square occurred.

Read more: Murphy's folly lives on; Market Square thrives - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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