The bald eagles on the Hays parkland property. Photo by Dana Nesiti of the Eagles of Hays PA Facebook page

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) board has accepted a deal giving the city 626 acres from the Pittsburgh Development Group II, which will become the largest public park in Pittsburgh’s history.

Pittsburgh Development Group II, a private development company, acquired the land in 2003 and planned a residential and commercial development and possibly a racetrack and casino. Charles J. Betters and his family, principal owners of Pittsburgh Development Group, approached the City after the project fell through and agreed to donate the land to enhance quality of life in the city. While the city will pay $5 million to cover expenses related to the transfer of the property, it is still considered a gift, according to Kevin Acklin.

The site, with an expected appraisal between $15 to 20 million or more according to the URA,  sits directly across the Mon from Hazelwood between the Glenwood Bridge and Becks Run Road— 642 acres sit in the Hays neighborhood and 18 acres are in Baldwin Borough. For comparison, Frick Park is 644 acres.

Hays parkland
View towards Pittsburgh’s newest park from Becks Run Road. Photo by Maya Henry.
View towards Pittsburgh’s newest park from Becks Run Road. Photo by Maya Henry.

“This is a historic day for Pittsburgh, one that allows us to make a monumental addition to our urban forests and hillsides, and one that harkens back to other great gifts of parkland in our City’s past,” said Mayor Peduto.

The land is already used informally as a park, and contains multiple waterways, a waterfall, hillsides with significant viewsheds and is home to the well-known bald eagle nest. The donation of the land to City control will ensure that it remains public green space in perpetuity and a conservation easement is being created to legally protect the land.

“Studying the stormwater and other environmental factors at the park is one of the things we are really excited about,” says Tim McNulty, communications manager for the City. “This is the largest gift of unspoiled land to the city, that is why it is so historic.” McNulty notes that environmental and conservation groups will be able to study the site, but “we want to preserve it in its current state as much as we can.”

Since its early days, green space has been a priority for Pittsburgh. Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of Central Park in New York City, recommended a park at the Point while laying out the downtown street grid, and the first director of Public Works, Edward Bigelow, envisioned an emerald necklace of parkland encircling the city.

Most recently, 257-acre Emerald View Park is in the making, which will wind through Mt. Washington, Allentown and Duquesne Heights. The Hays development site will add the most significant parcel yet to Bigelow’s original vision.

The move will have lasting impacts on the region, such as helping to offset the impacts of stormwater, a significant environmental concern that will be mitigated  since the land will remain unbuildable.

According to a document released by the URA and received by NEXTpittsburgh on June 10,

“Given the desire to return the site to public ownership, the seller has agreed to convey the property in fee simple, including all mineral rights, to the URA. The transaction is structured as a combination purchase and donation. The seller will receive a payment of $5,000,000.00 and will donate the balance of the property’s appraised value, allowing the URA to acquire the site at a cost significantly below market value.”

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.