CMU delves into the details of Craig St. Corridor
During the rapid expansion of Carnegie Mellon University that has taken place over the past 10 years, the area surrounding the school has changed, including Craig Street. The face of Craig Street has evolved with the area around it, impacting both the business owners and the students who frequent the South Craig Street stretch to satisfy their coffee and bubble tea cravings.
Just this past month, in the official groundbreaking of the Jared L. Cohon University Center expansion, district city councilman and alumnus Dan Gilman (DC ‘04) commented on the overall campus expansion plan: “[Carnegie Mellon] is embracing Forbes Avenue; we’re giving a new face to the future of Forbes, which will add definition to campus.” The plan highlighted CMU’s interests in its community beyond campus, and Craig Street is certainly an important part of it.
As of 2014, the university owns properties on Craig Street, including the University Police headquarters, 300 Craig Street (the building that contains Razzy Fresh), and 407 Craig Street. “We have been very excited by the energy and enthusiasm of the businesses on Craig Street to embrace the campus community, and especially our students,” Michael Murphy, vice president for campus affairs, said in an email to The Tartan. “The university owns and leases a fair amount of property in and around Craig, some of which is used for university functions and some of which is residential. It is important for the street to have a mix of businesses and activities that appeal to students. The quality of life for CMU students will only be enhanced by a stronger, more vibrant Craig Street district, which can only be accomplished if all the constituencies work together.”
The university has put together multiple committees and focus groups to drive the vision for Craig Street and the surrounding area. One such committee is the Craig Street Corridor Committee, comprised of students, faculty members, and administrators, according to fourth-year architecture student and Undergraduate Student Senate campus life committee chair Nikhil Sambamurthy. Sambamurthy said the committee has spent a lot of time reflecting on the Craig Street Crawl, which took place at the tail end of Orientation, and focused on looking to create another event this semester or in the spring.
“The Craig Street corridor is increasingly central to the life of the campus, adding vitality to the whole of the Carnegie Mellon experience,” Murphy said.
To that end, the university has acquired a number of plots of land, both along Forbes Ave. and on S. Craig Street. In 2009, the university announced in a press release that it had purchased “three nearby Forbes Avenue properties, including the former site of an Exxon service station at 4621 Forbes, from Museum Park Partners, a land development firm, for future development in the Forbes Avenue and Craig Street corridors. In addition to the former service station, the purchase includes a hillside just east of 4621 and a house on Filmore Street, which sits behind 4621.”
According to the press release, prior to the acquisition, the university had also purchased three acres of land on Forbes and three separate properties, which at that time “housed a bar, vintage clothing shop, and restaurant.” The purchases, which have been adding up since that press release was published, have all been repurposed for the university’s use, either through office space or renting out to retailers, according to both Murphy and Justin Miller, a senior city planner in the Department of City Planning who works specifically with the Craig Street neighborhood. The area that makes up what is colloquially known as Craig Street is actually just the southern end of the street, which, according to the department of city planning, is classified as a public realm.
“Public realms are intended to provide a development framework for areas of the city that have a regional significance that don’t really meet the basic requirements of our basic zoning districts (for example, residential or commercial) ... and have their own unique set of guidelines. It’s unique. It’s not a standard business district,” Miller said.
According to Miller, a public realm differs from a typical zoning district in the regulation categories, for example, for height and setback, and in the standards that the city planning committee uses to approve projects. “It has to be sensitive to the nature of the public space.... The committee will evaluate the project for how well they think it fits in with the public space,” Miler said.
Though most of the property owned by Carnegie Mellon falls under the zoning classification of EMI (educational/medical institution), the properties that the school has purchased on Craig Street remain public realm.
According to Miller, unless the university chooses to petition to change it, there is generally little cause for re-zoning, leaving the newly acquired Craig Street properties under the looser guidelines of the public realm. “It’s up to the university in that case to decide whether or not they want to go through that process and then they would follow the same process as anyone else,” Miller said.
Business owners on Craig Street questioned the benefits of having the university expand into their territory in 2009 letters to the ex-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bill Peduto cited by Trib Total Media, but campus town halls and the master plan have indicated otherwise.
The 2012 master plan that the university released to the community and to the campus outlined the plans that the university has to expand its borders, primarily into the Craig Street Corridor. And, according to Miller, as long as this statement of intent is present in the master plan and accounted for at the city planner’s office, the university is within their rights to build up and out. And build out it plans to.
“I am very pleased by the energy and focus on the ‘campus sphere’ beyond the footprint of the campus. We are in such a special location — with the park, golf course, great neighborhoods, museum, University of Pittsburgh and more — it is a terrific environment and we will continue to partner with others for even increasing vitality throughout this region,” Murphy said.