For years, it's been an irony as well as a logistical problem: Pittsburgh Community Television, designed to give regular people a chance to make and show TV programming, has been headquartered in a building many of its users have a hard time getting to. Located since 1986 in a nondescript, one-story concrete structure near the North Side end of the West End Bridge, PCTV21 was neither close by many of its producers nor readily accessible by public transit.
That looks to change. Pittsburgh's public-access cable station is on the verge of signing a lease on a building in Friendship, in the city's ever-growing Penn Avenue arts corridor. Tom Poole, the station's executive director, says PCTV hopes to make the move as soon as next summer.
"We want to be part of the arts community and we see that developing up there," says Poole. PCTV and the building's owner, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., are working to raise the estimated $1.2 million it will take to turn 5440 Penn Ave. into a production facility. The kickoff public fund-raiser is a July 16 talk at Carnegie Mellon University by journalist and author Amy Goodman.
The move would situate PCTV within two blocks of the headquarters of arts-corridor stalwarts Dance Alloy, Pittsburgh Glass Center and architecture firm Edge Studios. In fact, it was Edge's Dutch McDonald, a Friendship resident and PCTV board member, who initiated the contact, says BGC Executive Director Rick Swartz. The two-story brick building, formerly home to the Penn Technical Institute, has been vacant for a decade. The BGC bought it a couple of years ago and scrapped plans for a more conventional development after McDonald suggested approaching PCTV. Swartz says Friendship Development Associates, a frequent BGC partner in ventures along Penn, helped negotiate the impending deal.
Funded by a small surcharge on city residents' Comcast cable bill, PCTV operates on a tight budget. But monthly it allows dozens of community producers to make television about whatever they choose, resulting in an eclectic mix of religion, sports, entertainment and public-affairs programming. In 2002 the station hired the energetic Poole, and shortly after received long-delayed funding for much-needed new production equipment; since then, says Poole, demand for the facility has more than doubled, and PCTV has gone to a 24-hour cablecast day (not to mention adding weekday screenings of Amy Goodman's progressive news show, Democracy Now!).
A Penn Avenue facility would be easier on producers, 40 percent of whom, Poole says, live in the East End. And the building's 14,000 square feet ought to accommodate plans for an in-house youth television-production program. "I get bombarded by youth organizations on how young people can use our facility," says Poole. "We really need more space."