Pittsburgh Innovation District brings mini golf to Oakland

Once a busy street with heavy traffic, Oakland Avenue is now filled with tables, pedestrians, and something brand new to the neighborhood – miniature golf.

Located at the intersection of Forbes and Oakland Avenues, the mini golf course is called the Oakland Open, sits between a selection of local businesses like Fuku tea, Stacked and Fuel and fuddle.

The plaza is Pittsburgh-themed, with one hole adorned with a miniature representation of the Cathedral of Learning and another adorned with a yellow bridge. Pittsburgh Innovation District installed the course and the organization is trying to improve Oakland and the surrounding neighborhoods, according to Mike Madden, its director and a Pitt alum from 2014.

“The Pittsburgh Innovation District and Innovate PGH are public-private partnerships that aim to improve strategy and direction and increase the critical mass of academic research investment and talent in Oakland and beyond,” said Madden.

Mini golf is free, but contributions to local businesses or donations are accepted. Participants currently have to make a reservation Howl, how Walk-ups are suspended from Thursday evening. According to Madden, the pop-up business is designed to generate business for local restaurants and restaurants.

“The restaurants are part of the reason we do this,” Madden said. “We want Oakland to be a vibrant and sustainable neighborhood throughout the pandemic, and the restaurants have been great.”

After his websiteMiniature golf attendees will receive a $ 5 voucher with purchases of $ 20 or more at select local restaurants. Some of the 12 participating restaurants include Fuel & Fuddle, Marios, Stack’d, Fuku Tea and Pamela.

For some Oakland restaurant owners, this popup has brought additional business. According to Brandon Smith, owner of Fuel & Fuddle, mini golf has successfully attracted new customers.

“I think it brought in a lot of people, especially families on the weekends,” said Smith. “I think it introduces them to our restaurant and outdoor seating so I think it’s been a really positive experience so far.”

Smith also said the coupons were successful in bringing people in and are a good indicator of how well the program is working.

“We have a couple of dozen of these coupons that people gave up so we know they played golf,” said Smith. “I’ve talked to customers and most of them said they saw the Golf on the news, so they came here and that’s what it’s about.”

For students, mini golf is an opportunity to safely participate in a new activity. Kelly Schanes, a senior citizen studying communication and public and professional writing, thinks mini golf is a great concept.

“I always see people there and I think it’s fun to do something when you only have a few hours,” said Schanes.

According to Schanes, who played a round of mini golf with her boyfriend on March 12, playing the course was fun and competitive.

“It was really fun,” said Schanes. “My boyfriend and I played our game and we are very competitive. When we ended up tied we had to do a tiebreaker – I lost by one so I have to do a rematch.”

According to Madden, the Pittsburgh Innovation District specifically chose mini golf because they wanted to implement something that would be safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but also give people outside of Oakland a reason to visit.

“We knew Oakland Avenue was closed to cars and traffic, and we wanted to take advantage of that,” Madden said. “We were trying to think of something that would be COVID-proof and also outdoors to give the entire region a reason to come to Oakland.”

According to Smith the closure of Oakland Avenue for pedestrian traffic and outdoor seating last summer saved his shop from closing and created a great atmosphere too.

“If we hadn’t done that last year, we probably wouldn’t be here now, so I’d say that saved our business,” said Smith. “It’s in a good mood because it almost feels like real life again, you know what I mean?”

In addition to helping local businesses during the pandemic, Madden said another reason for the mini-golf popup was to promote the work of the Pittsburgh Innovation District.

“Another reason for this project is to create greater brand awareness for what we do,” said Madden. “We believe that Pittsburgh’s economy will be shaped by innovation, and of course what happens in Pitt, Oakland and other universities is really important to the region.”

Madden said for him the COVID-19 pandemic had wiped out spontaneous fun and urban pop-up experiences, so he wanted to bring something to Oakland that would put the neighborhood at the forefront of innovation and change.

“The pandemic is really a lot of organic fun and, as you know, suppressed organic, urban pop-up projects like this one,” Madden said. “So with mini golf, we wanted to show that Oakland is at the forefront.”

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