Pittsburgh Community Television is leaving its headquarters for a new community. Pittsburgh cable's public-access channel has signed a lease on a building on Penn Avenue in Friendship, a move designed partly to make the facility's equipment and programming more accessible.
Since 1986, PCTV's headquarters has been located in a corner of the North Side, near the West End Bridge but distant from most bus service and other easy access for many city residents. That includes the majority of PCTV's several dozen community producers, whom the station trains and provides with equipment and studio and editing-room time for a small fee.
Luther Dupree, who produces the sports talk show Steel City Sports World, says the Friendship location will be easier on his guests -- and on him, since he lives in nearby Point Breeze. "It's more of a central location," he says, adding that a planned increase in the number of studios, from one to three, will make scheduling production easier too.
In search of a new facility, a couple of years ago PCTV hired Cool Space Locator, a nonprofit real-estate organization dedicated to neighborhood revitalization. The building, at 5440 Penn Ave., sits amid the street's burgeoning arts community. It's a nondescript former technical school, vacant for more than a decade and currently owned by the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., which will now co-own and redevelop the building with its frequent partner in community development, Friendship Development Associates.
"This is a monumental moment in the history of PCTV," says Thomas Poole, PCTV's executive director since 2002. "The station's impact in the community will multiply ten-fold."
The new facility will sit within a few blocks of the Quiet Storm coffeehouse, the Pittsburgh Glass Center and Dance Alloy's Neighborhood Dance Center. The latter building was also a BGC/FDA joint project, as is the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative, which works to attract arts-related uses to the corridor.
The two-story building includes nearly 11,000 square feet of space for PCTV, with an additional 1,800 square feet on the first floor still available for rental. PCTV's 10-year lease starts in March 2006. FDA Executive Director Becky Mingo says renovations are expected to cost about $1 million, to be financed primarily by bank loans; construction is scheduled to begin in October. Retained by the BGC, architecture firm Edge Studio -- based just blocks away -- already has plans drawn up, envisioning the front part of the current first floor as an open-air atrium courtyard leading into a lobby.
Public-access operations such as PCTV are written into many municipalities' cable-TV contracts to allow regular folk to exercise their First Amendment rights in a medium dominated by commercial broadcasters. For years, PCTV has struggled with tight budgets; most of its funding comes from a 35-cent monthly surcharge on Comcast customers in the city of Pittsburgh. Its programs include variety shows, religious programming, music-video showcases and political talk. PCTV also airs the national progressive daily news show Democracy Now!
PCTV's lease-signing was welcome news to Penn Avenue Arts Initiative head Jeffrey Dorsey, who notes that like the Glass Center and the Dance Center, PCTV has a strong educational component. While it's open to all city residents, it could benefit local young people especially. Says Dorsey: "We'd love to have young kids growing up with the opportunity to produce electronic media and multimedia in their own neighborhood."