Tube City Almanac

August 07, 2008

Putting the 'URA' Into 'Bureaucracy'

Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By

Here's a little story about a boy from McKeesport, the G.C. Murphy Co., and Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

You've heard of the URA. That's where (according to some people) you can get a free electronic billboard with the purchase of a home-theater surround-sound system for the executive director and his wife.

Once upon a time, the McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. had a giant store in Downtown Pittsburgh, a small village (and getting smaller every day) north of Our Fair City (which has shrinkage problems of its own, and not just while swimming).

Then some ogres from Rocky Hill, Conn., bought up all of G.C. Murphy Co.'s shares of stock and proceeded to fly everything into the side of a mountain. (Or maybe it was a Rocky Hill, now that I think of it.)

. . .

The store in Picksberg wound up in the clutches of the McCrory Corp., which was controlled by Meshulam Riklis (better known as Mr. Pia Zadora).

While Mr. Riklis amassed a fortune in rare antiques and oil paintings, McCrory Corp. went down the toilet.

You might say that Mr. Riklis got the paintings, and McCrory's investors got the brush.

The abandoned store was purchased by the URA. (Remember? This is a story about the URA.) Anyway, the boy from McKeesport was writing a history of the G.C. Murphy Co., and asked the URA if he could go into the store and take some photos.

Letters were exchanged. So were emails. So were phone calls.

. . .

First, the URA said "yes." Then "maybe." Then they told the boy that the store was "too dangerous" because of water leaks that damaged the floors and ceilings.

(The boy was too polite to point out that the water was leaking through all of the windows the URA had left open.)

In the meantime, an architecture student contacted the boy to tell him that she was allowed to tour the building. The boy called the URA to say, "What the fudge?"

"Let us get back to you," the URA said. They didn't. Probably they were distracted by all of the smoke from the free cigars. Or maybe they were busy running other stuff besides the URA, like the planning commission.

. . .

Then a movie was filmed using the old G.C. Murphy Co. store as a set. A member of the movie crew emailed the boy. "There's all kinds of historic stuff upstairs," he said. "Pictures of all of the employees, signs, stuff like that. How come you haven't preserved this?"

The boy contacted the URA. "Go talk to the developer," they said this time. But the developer didn't have a key to the building yet --- because the URA was still the owner.

And then, the URA went through the building with shovels, saws and pickaxes, tearing down everything it could. "Asbestos abatement," they said.

No one could explain how photos and signs were made from asbestos, or why those had to be thrown away, too. But out it all went, into trash bins and off to landfills.

. . .

All the URA left behind were some historic mouse droppings, vintage 2008 cups from Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, and an antique Playboy centerfold on the wall.

The boy thought about writing a nasty letter to the URA, but was frankly told not to bother, because it was too late to correct the problem, and they wouldn't care anyway.

Besides, it usually doesn't help to tell someone they're a blockhead. You might as well tell as a skunk that it smells.

The boy also wondered, in retrospect, if maybe he should have tried greasing someone's palm. Unfortunately, he's a boy from McKeesport, and he couldn't afford fancy cigars and home-theater systems.

All he had were some skeins of G.C. Murphy Co.-brand yarn, but he didn't think anyone at the URA would want that anyway, except maybe to knit some caps to warm the heads of the URA's director and his wife, the mayor's ex-press secretary.

. . .

Sadly, this story doesn't have a moral. But the boy from McKeesport has noticed that both the URA director and his wife are follically challenged.

The boy from McKeesport has some experience in that area. He has more scalp than hair, and he recommends wearing a hat in the summertime.

Getting one's bare scalp sunburned is no fun.

Right now, the boy from McKeesport is burned, all right, but on his other end.

And as far as he's concerned, the URA is welcome to kiss that part.

Your Comments are Welcome!

I am wary of anything that is that has a name with “Authority” at the end. I have had my own dealings with a certain “authority”. They were not that accommodating to me either.
The Dude - August 08, 2008

That is truly a shame, and what a loss, not just for the boy, but for the city and region, as well.
mon valley girl - August 08, 2008

Oh come now…you can’t expect that anyone cares about history anymore can you? I mean, rumor has it that someone threw out a ton of old reels at a 50kW (or what’s supposed to be a 50 kW) radio transmitter building.

The era of “let’s hurry up, do whatever you want with this stuff we’ve gotta film a movie here” has really frosted my cookies.
Eric - August 08, 2008

At the risk of sounding stoooopid, what was the name of the movie?
Lane in McK - August 08, 2008

It was actually a mini-series called “The Kill Point,” which aired on Spike TV —- you probably didn’t see it, because Spike TV is the closest thing to witness protection that basic cable has.
Webmaster - August 09, 2008

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