Penguins, Pittsburgh councilman at odds over plans for ex-Civic Arena site

A city councilman may withdraw his support for a federal grant critical to the redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site unless a deal is reached soon between the Penguins and Hill District leaders on minority participation, affordable housing and other issues.

R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill, has been supporting the application of the city, Allegheny County and the Sports & Exhibition Authority for the $21 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant since last spring.

Local officials are counting on the money to help pay for the roads, utilities and other infrastructure, estimated at more than $30 million, needed to get the 28-acre site ready for the residential, office and commercial development being proposed by the Penguins.

At the same time, Hill leaders, including Mr. Lavelle, have been trying for more than a year to negotiate an agreement with the team on levels of participation by minority- and women-owned businesses in the development and the amount of affordable housing that will be made available to lower-income residents.

So far they have been unable to cut a deal, and Mr. Lavelle said Wednesday his patience is wearing thin.

If no agreement is reached in the next two to three weeks, he said, he may be forced to withdraw his support for the highly competitive TIGER grant. Awards are expected to be made next month.

“The principle behind the TIGER application is about providing ladders of opportunity. They don’t come because we’re building buildings. They come because we’re very intentional about providing ownership opportunities, job opportunities” and others in the development, he said.

Mr. Lavelle sees the “real ladder” as the community collaboration and implementation plan that lays out Hill demands regarding levels of minority participation, affordable housing and other issues.

While the councilman said he has seen no progress in the talks with the Penguins in recent weeks, Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto who has been spearheading the negotiations, said he believes a deal is possible in two to three weeks.

He acknowledged that minority participation and affordable housing remain “open issues” but did not see them as insurmountable. He said the goal is not only to have good development at the arena site but one that is “transformational” to the middle and upper Hill as well.

“Finding the balance between the economics of the development and doing so in a manner that’s building generational wealth for a neighborhood that hasn’t seen it in decades is the gap we’re trying to bridge now,” he said.

He believes that can be done. However, he said, the city would oppose direct payments to any one community group, as the Hill plan proposes. Instead, it is looking at creating a development fund to implement the community plan and to support continued development in the middle and upper Hill. Money for the fund would be generated from investments in the arena redevelopment.

“We would not support a request to funnel money to any particular community group,” he said. “That is something that is not part of any development in the city.”

Even with some issues still to be resolved, Mr. Acklin said the benefits being proposed for the Hill through the arena redevelopment are greater than those in any other development in the city.

As the parties try to nail down a final agreement, the Penguins are requesting a one-year delay in starting work at the arena site. They are supposed to take possession of the first parcels in October.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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