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Victory for Property Owners:

Pittsburgh Mayor Publicly Retracts Eminent Domain Threat

Washington, D.C.-Following a meeting with business owners in the Fifth and Forbes area today, Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy officially declared the use of eminent domain in the downtown area off the table in any future discussions of renewing downtown Pittsburgh.

“Government transfers of property from one private owner to another are immoral and unconstitutional,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that pledged to represent all property owners in the Fifth and Forbes area for free if the City moved to take their property through eminent domain. “We couldn’t be happier for Pittsburgh property owners that Mayor Murphy has finally ruled out the use of eminent domain in the Fifth and Forbes area.”

On Wednesday, November 22, 2000, Seattle-based Nordstrom department store announced that it was not building a store in Pittsburgh, thus prompting Murphy to declare his proposed Marketplace at Fifth and Forbes project dead. On that day, as throughout this entire controversy, the Institute urged Mayor Murphy to declare publicly that he would not use eminent domain in any new effort to revitalize downtown.

“Given Mayor Murphy’s history, we will closely watch any future plans for downtown redevelopment to ensure Pittsburghers’ property rights are being preserved,” Bullock added. “If Murphy once again raises the specter of eminent domain, IJ will be ready to come to the aid of these small businesspeople.”

Offering its expertise as the nation’s leading advocates against eminent domain abuse, the Institute for Justice joined with Pittsburgh-based business owners and other individuals to oppose the Mayor’s plan. On March 1, 2000, the Institute held a rally in Market Square announcing its commitment to represent the owners. During the early summer, IJ ran a series of billboards throughout downtown declaring the Mayor’s plan not only unconstitutional but also out of step with Pittsburgh’s values of fair play. In the fall, it took out full-page advertisements in local newspapers featuring local business owners—florist George Harris and optometrist Dr. Edward Diamond—whose properties were slated for leveling if the Mayor’s plan went through. The Institute also wrote several newspaper opinion pieces to explain why government cannot and should not force private-to-private transfers of land through eminent domain, and joined with the property owners to speak out at several public hearings and forums. All the while, the Institute made ready legal filings should the City of Pittsburgh make good on its threat to condemn private properties only to hand them over to a private developer.

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