Blacks poised to benefit from Civic Arena site development

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$$$ – Visitors can be charged as much $21 to park in the lot at the former Civic Arena site. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)

 

Next week, the Hill District community will receive an update on the results of yearlong negotiations between community stakeholders and the Pittsburgh Penguins over redevelopment of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site.

“We have been meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins almost weekly to work on a plan. We hope to be able to wrap that up very shortly. The conversations have been around minority inclusion on the site as well as MWDBE (minority, women, and disabled business enterprises) inclusion,” said District 6 City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District. “One of the last components is a revenue stream from the development site that would go back into the community to help with development and other economic issues.”

While Lavelle plans to update the community at a meeting on Sept. 24th, some information is already clear. Plans for the site include a mixed-use development with office, commercial, and residential space. Lavelle hopes construction on an initial phase of housing can begin as early as November 2014.

Development hit a minor setback last week when the Sports & Exhibition Authority was denied a grant to fund infrastructure improvements around the site. Lavelle believes the infrastructure work could be done in phases, as needed, so as not to delay the project’s progress.

Lavelle is working to ensure the redevelopment project benefits African-American businesses and that African-Americans are employed at every stage from pre-development to post development. The Penguins are already bringing in revenue from the site, which currently serves as a parking lot, but Lavelle said he believes they want to move forward with the development as well.

“It literally is in their economic best interest to leave it as a parking lot for as long as possible but what I’ve got from them is it is their intent to get this moving along as soon as possible,” Lavelle said. “If this is done right this will forever change the trajectory of this community. I’m less concerned with the bricks and mortar of this sight as its power to change the economic reality of this community.”

Ensuring the African-American community benefits from the Lower Hill development is also a priority for District 8 City Councilman Bill Peduto who is the democratic nominee for mayor.

“The community involvement has to involve all the stakeholders. It can’t be that part of the community sits at the main table while another part sits at the card table,” Peduto said.

Another one of Peduto’s conditions on the development, which he shared with the Penguins, is that no additional public dollars be given to the Penguins after this initial phase. Instead he said future public dollars should be used to fund developments in the Middle Hill area. He said he used a similar tactic in his district around the Bakery Square development when funds were used to improve nearby transit and as a result new residential developments are being built.

Once we do this to the infrastructure, the Penguins shouldn’t be coming back to us,” Peduto said.

“They were also given all the parking revenue for that sight.”

The Penguins have received $15 million in state funding, $5 million for demolition, $4 million from Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, and are requesting an additional $18 million in federal funding.

 

 

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