Highland Park lost a good friend and ally recently with the passing of Jim Ferlo. City Councilman for fifteen years, followed by twelve years as our State Senator, Jim was a force to be reckoned with in both settings, never one to back down from a critical issue of principle and fairness. One of many speakers at Jim’s memorial service in Allegheny Cemetery in May, who served with him in Harrisburg, referred to him as “the conscience of the Senate.” He was that and more, with longtime residents of Pittsburgh also recalling Jim leading battles with the powers that be over historic preservation, health care, workers rights, tax-exempt properties, sustainable development, billboards… the list is long.
Newcomers to the neighborhood may not be aware of Jim’s sometimes colorful but always effective methods to push both those he served, as well as those he hoped to convince, to aim higher, but we live in a neighborhood where the proof of his impact is visible every day. The Highland Park we enjoy today had a far less certain future just a short time ago. Whole blocks suffered from disinvestment and decay, Bryant Street was dysfunctional and vacant, and the park was a shadow of what it once was. In the early 90’s, at Jim’s urging, a band of determined neighbors created the Highland Park Community Development Corporation to take on the “bricks and mortar” projects necessary to begin to reverse the tide on blocks that were at the edge of no return. The work in this corner of the neighborhood continues today, but these are now safe, livable places that attract both significant investment and great neighbors.
Bryant Street always held a special attraction for Jim. It drove him crazy that this neighborhood was saddled with a commercial district of empty storefronts, eyesore buildings, irresponsible property owners, and noise and drug use when all could see that the community was hungry for a total makeover. With Jim’s urging a new vision was set, problem properties were acquired, partners and funding were secured, and restaurants and services that the neighborhood wanted and needed began to open in restored and new buildings. Such turnarounds are complicated and take time, and while Jim was not a patient person, the Bryant Street of today would never have happened without Jim’s unwavering 20+ years of dedication and support.
As you walk around Highland Park, thank Jim for being able to enjoy the walk around the Upper Reservoir, threatened in the 90’s with a cover like the one now being replaced on the Lower Reservoir. He was in the neighborhood’s corner with other key individuals and institutions in the 10-year standoff to find the eventual solution, the Microfiltration Plant, that both assured a safe drinking water supply while also respecting the unique experience at the heart of the park that makes Highland Park special.
As you leave the park and pass by the fountain and under the granite and bronze entry piers at the end of Highland Avenue, thank Jim for making sure that the city’s proceeds from the sale of the King Estate stayed in the neighborhood, funding both the restoration of the historic Moretti statues as well as the key initial design process that led to the full rejuvenation of the entry gardens in partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City.
These are but a few of Jim’s contributions to the neighborhood he loved, and we will miss him greatly.
David Hance, president of the Highland Park Community Development Corporation