$27 million project could reunite Downtown and the Hill

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A local authority is laying the groundwork for a daunting — and expensive — plan to reunite Downtown and the Hill District.

The Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority expects to begin preliminary design work by summer for a proposed deck over Crosstown Boulevard, one that would connect Downtown with the 28-acre former Civic Arena site in the lower Hill.

SEA board members approved an agreement Thursday to access a $918,684 federal grant to help fund the $1.1 million preliminary design work, which is expected to take about nine months. The balance of the money will come from the SEA.

The deck — which in essence would cover Crosstown Boulevard, a part of Interstate 579 — is part of a larger plan to rebuild a street grid on the former arena site and link it to the rest of the Hill, with some of that work to start this summer. That connection was severed more than half a century ago when the Civic Arena was built.

Preliminary design work will look at the best method for building the deck, the type of engineering involved and the cost of the project. Plans call for a park to be placed on top of the deck. Estimates place the cost of the project at $27 million — money that neither the SEA, the city, nor the county has at this point.

That’s in addition to the $30 million needed for the infrastructure work at the former arena site. To date, the SEA has been able to secure only half of that amount.

Nonetheless, SEA executive director Mary Conturo appeared to be undaunted by the task.

“We’re taking it a step a time,” she said. “Once we have a better plan as to design and cost, that gives us more information to go and find the funding.”

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, SEA board chairman, said the project and the former arena redevelopment have the support of politicians such as Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, both of whom could be instrumental in supplying funds.

“The 28 acres is a priority. I think there is reason to be optimistic,” he said.

To help with the infrastructure funding, the SEA, with the backing of the city and the county, will be applying again for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. Applications are due later this month.

The SEA sought $18 million in the last round of TIGER grant funding but lost out. It is expected to seek about the same amount in the latest round. If the SEA gets the money, a portion would go to fund final design related to the deck over Crosstown Boulevard.

SEA officials hope to begin infrastructure work on the 28-acre former arena site in August. It is expected to start on the eastern half of the site closest to Crawford Square and include the construction of some of the interior roads. The SEA has $15 million in state redevelopment capital assistance funding to help pay for the work.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are under an October deadline to start development on the site. The hockey team, which won the development rights to the land in the deal to build Consol Energy Center, is planning a residential, office and commercial development on the property.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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