OBID announces support for controversial Walnut Capital plan


TPN File Photo

A Walnut Capital advertisement.

By Martha Layne and Millicent Watt

The Oakland Business Improvement District announced its support Monday for private Shadyside developer Walnut Capital’s controversial Oakland Crossings plan to rezone about 17 acres of Central Oakland.

The Oakland Crossings plan includes creating more green space, a grocery store, an elevated pedestrian crossing bridge across the Boulevard of the Allies and affordable housing for Pitt employees and sustainable buildings. The plan received community backlash, including from the Oakland Planning and Development Corp., a registered community organization for the neighborhood.

Pittsburgh City Council voted 8-0 with one abstention earlier this month to send zoning legislation enabling the plan to the City Planning Commission. If the commission approves the legislation, it will be sent back to City Council for a final hearing as early as next year.

OBID’s board is made up of 31 members from a variety of Oakland-based organizations, including community, civic and cultural focused groups, as well as members from educational and medical institutes such as Pitt and UPMC. Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital’s president, is also on the board.

According to Georgia Petropoulos, OBID’s executive director, any board members affiliated with the proposed development — including Reidbord, as well as members affiliated with Pitt and UPMC — did not vote on the matter. Petropoulos said the board and stakeholders seriously considered Walnut Capital’s plan before any decisions were made.

“We take our role as community stewards and the responsibilities we have to convene stakeholders to talk through any investments that impact our members very seriously,” Petropoulos said. “We invited Walnut Capital to inform both our board and our stakeholders of their plans and ensured any questions were answered so that the board could effectively deliberate.”

According to a press release, Reidbord told the board that his company’s plans were created with Oakland community goals “top of mind,” in particular after the Oakland Plan Steering Committee sent a letter to developers last spring encouraging them to do this. OPDC seeks to halt the Oakland Crossings plan until the Oakland Plan is completed.

Kelly McBroom, chair of OBID’s board, said the board stands by the Walnut Capital plan because it aligns with the Oakland Plan’s goals.

“The board stands by Pittsburgh City Council’s decision to progress the legislation to the next natural ‘step’ in the City’s public process,” McBroom said. “Holistically, we believe Walnut Capital’s vision for Oakland Crossings is in line with the Oakland Plan’s community goals and that their high standards of place-making will advance our mission to enhance Oakland as one of Pennsylvania’s top global centers.”