Saturday, April 07, 2007

Pittsburgh Penguins and Neighborhood Concerns

P-G "We anticipate having meetings with community members in the Hill District on the redevelopment of the Lower Hill," said new Penguins President David Morehouse yesterday. "It's far too early to anticipate what the outcomes of community meetings will be."
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a hand in the South Side, some years ago. The team needed a practice facility. So, a deal was hatched to have the team put a roof over an outdoor ice rink in a park, South Side Park. The park sits behind what is now UPMC South Side Hospital and is below Quarry Field, home to the South Side Sabers football team.

The Pens would host an NHL All Star Game and one of the practices for the players before that game was even held at this rink.

The rink would be home to a few local hockey programs as well. Pitt played there as well.

Well, the Pens got out of that deal. The support of the team departed and the rink would eventually close due to poor management and a lack of oversight from the city officials.

The Pens would then have a hand in an impressive fitness and ice facility built at Southpointe. The new facility was out of the city and it was nice. After a while, the team pulled its support out of that program as well. The Pens has a one-time ownership stake in that facility -- and then it went away.

I don't think that the Pens have a presence in a region when it comes to neighborhood efforts and venues. Sure, there is the Mario golf classic and a wing in a hospital -- but nothing with a 'facility.'

Folks in the Hill District are now looking to the Pens to shell out some money for neighborhood programs. A small sliver of that pie could be obtained for a re-do of the city's lone indoor ice rink. I'm not sure that this is what the folks in the Hill have in mind -- but they'll hear from me in the days to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Penguins to weigh Hill arena agenda
Model for neighborhood benefits pushed
Saturday, April 07, 2007

By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hill District figures who want a multimillion dollar development fund and job guarantees at a new arena will likely get a chance to make their case to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Whether they'll get everything they want, though, depends on whether they can master a process pioneered by Los Angeles community groups and honed in a New York City development fight.

"We anticipate having meetings with community members in the Hill District on the redevelopment of the Lower Hill," said new Penguins President David Morehouse yesterday. "It's far too early to anticipate what the outcomes of community meetings will be."

Some Hill business leaders and clergy gave Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato a "terms sheet" on Thursday. It outlines what some in the neighborhood want in return for hosting the $290 million replacement for Mellon Arena, and a $350 million redevelopment of the old arena site promised by casino license winner Don Barden.

The terms include a $10 million up-front payment from "various sources," possibly including public sources or arena and development revenue. They also call for a percentage of arena revenue, plus annual payments for 30 years, to go to an unspecified "development interest."

Thirty percent of jobs at the arena and the nearby development effort would go to minorities.

"We will definitely consider making sure we have a minority hiring plan," Mr. Morehouse said. As for the request for development money, he said he's "not going to discount offhand anything I haven't seen."

"It's not unreasonable for us to ask for a commitment of $10 million when so much has been given to private interests," said Marimba Milliones, a Hill District businesswomen and a leader of the effort, along with the Rev. Johnnie Monroe, pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church.

The proposed upfront payment "is actually very conservative when you compare it to the list of public dollars going to the arena for the Penguins," Ms. Milliones said.

Debt payments on the arena would run $19.2 million a year for 30 years. State gambling taxes would cover around 40 percent of payments, funds from Mr. Barden's North Shore casino would compose another 40 percent, and team contributions would make up 20 percent. Public investments in roads and sewers are likely.

"Our city and county governments went above and beyond to make sure that the Penguins stay here," Ms. Milliones said. "Let's get really creative with how to help out the Hill District."

The tool for enforcing any deal between the team, developers and neighborhood groups would be a special contract called a community benefits agreement.

"The community benefits agreement is certainly something that will take place, and something that is very important," said Ms. Milliones. "We're not going to get there within a week or so. That's a six-month process, or even longer."

City Councilwoman Tonya Payne, who represents the Hill District, agreed that such an arrangement should be forged, but said Ms. Milliones and her allies weren't taking the right approach.

"They're saying, 'We live in the Hill, and we're entitled,' and you can't walk in [to talks] that way," said the former neighborhood developer.

In other cities, community benefits agreements attached to arenas have come about when determined and politically potent coalitions fought hard for them.

The pioneering benefits agreement was one negotiated in 2001 related to development around Staples Center in Los Angeles.

A coalition of neighborhood, ethnic and labor organizations maximized their leverage during a mayor's race to attach strings to city approval of a 27-acre sports and entertainment district.

In the end, they got the developer to agree to give people displaced by the project, or from areas affected by it, first shot at jobs. The developer promised $1 million to create and improve parks, $650,000 in no-interest loans for nonprofit housing groups, $100,000 to seed job training programs and at least 100 affordable, new homes.

The groups also won a promise that 70 percent of the anticipated 5,500 jobs created by the development be unionized or pay a family-supporting wage.

Though the development around the center is still in the planning phase, promised payments to community groups already have been made.

In the New York borough of Brooklyn, a coalition of eight groups pounded out a deal with subsidiaries of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises in return for their support for an arena and high-rise development called Atlantic Yards. That will be the new home of the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets.

The agreement, signed in 2005, stipulates that 35 percent of construction jobs go to minorities, and 10 percent to women. Twenty percent of construction contract dollars and arena concession activities are to go to minority-owned firms, and 10 percent to women-owned companies.

The agreement requires that half of rental units in the development be affordable, with 10 percent set aside for senior housing. The developer is obligated to work with nearby schools to help improve their offerings and must include a community health center, 7 acres of open space, and a meditation room on the site.

There's even a ticket promise: 50 upper bowl seats, four lower bowl seats and one luxury box are to be available for "community use" at every event, including Nets basketball games.

Enforcement of the agreement has proved contentious, and this year the developer is to pay a "watchdog" assigned to ensure that the benefits are provided.

In the Hill District, the church and business group trying to replicate those successes may face an uphill battle. The neighborhood is not united politically. The elected leaders they are trying to influence don't face the kind of stiff election challenges that would give Hill voters leverage. And the Penguins already have pledged more money than they really wanted to spend on a new arena.

It's unclear whether all of the players can get along.

Last year, Ms. Milliones was part of a Hill District Gaming Task Force that had plans to create a Greater Hill Development League, and wanted slots casino funds to aid reconstruction.

Task force leaders viewed Mr. Barden as more responsive to their concerns than two other casino license bidders, including Penguins partner Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., which wanted to build in the Hill. Mr. Barden's spokesman had no comment yesterday.

The task force tangled with the Penguins' proposed development ally, Pittsburgh First, and ran afoul of Ms. Payne.

Ms. Milliones said she can get the parties to the table.

"We absolutely intend to meet with the Penguins or [Mr. Barden's company] or anyone else who has control of that site," she said of the development zone.

"It's understandable a group of Hill District residents want to ensure their voices are heard," said Mr. Morehouse, "and we are going to be listening."

(Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542. )