Yesterday I was driving past the new Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville. The site — in its older incarnation as the main campus for the St. Francis Health System — had vivid memories. I worked at St. Francis from 1990 to 1999 as Director of Development, bringing in foundation grants and initiating its first major gifts program. At one time, St. Francis was the largest hospital in Pittsburgh, with 750 patient beds. The institution was admired for offering the highest percentage of unreimbursed care for the medically indigent.
In the 1990s, however, the hospital administration could not cope with the changing medical landscape that was transforming how health care was delivered in the United States. A series of unfortunate economic decisions put the institution in an untenable situation and St. Francis was eventually purchased by UPMC, the area goliath of health care delivery.
Lawrenceville, historically a blue collar neighborhood, was economically reliant on its major employer. Without it, the entire area saw its economic vitality reduced to ashes, except for a recent embryonic arts and crafts movement that filled in storefronts on Butler Street.
The turning point was UPMC’s decision to relocate Children’s Hospital from its long time base in Oakland to the former St. Francis Location. Many years and many cost overruns later, I was driving past a beautifully designed campus that will bring smiles to children for decades to come. As I drove by, I could smell the hope present in this neighborhood. The hospital will not only create jobs for medical personnel, it has the potential to create jobs and transform the physical environment of the entire area.
There are other signs of promise throughout the city. The slow but steady evolution of donwtown Pittsburgh with its lofts and mixed use housing projects coupled with Pt. Park University’s academic community initiative is one. Southside Works is only the most visible development in that area of the city; plans are underway to develop green space marinas and create housing to complement the entertainment complex. New housing is being planned for the Strip District.
Allegheny County, long bound by inertia, lethargy and little substantive collaboration between city and county government, the Allegheny Conference of Community Development and the city’s mainline foundations, is seemingly on the move. We can only hope the region’s decisionmakers can put aside their turf and power issues and join collectively to build upon these new and promising developments.