URA delays action on two key Pittsburgh projects

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The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has delayed action on two high-profile projects — the sale of land at the former Civic Arena site and the redevelopment of the Strip District produce terminal.

URA board members decided not to vote Thursday on the sale of its Melody Tent site, a parcel of land in the lower Hill District now used for parking, to the Sports & Exhibition Authority for $1.

The transfer, part of the arena site, would clear the way for a contract to be awarded for the construction of roads, sidewalks, street lights and other infrastructure for the 28-acre redevelopment proposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.

Kevin Acklin, URA board chairman, said a vote was delayed at the request of city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, a URA board member who represents the Hill District.

Mr. Acklin noted that the Penguins and the city are still involved in negotiations with Hill leaders over issues like participation of minorities and women in the redevelopment and the amount of affordable housing that will be made available to lower income residents.

“We don’t want to give the perception that we’re trying to jam through the deal without having the proper discussion with the community,” he said, adding a one-month delay would not affect the timetable for the infrastructure work.

The URA delayed action on the produce terminal redevelopment because it’s still awaiting a recommendation from Fourth Economy Consulting on its choice for the work.

Four developers — the Ferchill Group, McCaffery Interests, Rubino Partners, and the Buncher Company — are competing to redevelop the nearly vacant 1,533-foot-long warehouse, once a hub for produce wholesalers.

Mr. Acklin said Fourth Economy is still sorting through the public comments made at a public meeting on the proposals last week. He hopes the board will be able to vote on a recommendation next month.

“We want to get it right. That’s what it’s about,” he said.

McCaffery recently was involved in the sale of the Cork Factory and Loft 24 apartment buildings in the Strip to Philadelphia-based GMH Capital Partners. The sale became controversy when GMH used holding companies to buy the properties, paying taxes only on the assessed values, which were believed to be much lower than the purchase price.

Nonetheless, Mr. Acklin didn’t think that controversy should affect McCaffery’s bid on the produce terminal, which he said was “completely independent” of the other issue. “That’s a sale of their property,” he said of the Cork Factory situation. “They told us they followed the rules.”

Also Thursday, the URA board approved a $35,000 grant with the Bloomfield Garfield Corp. to set up an emergency loan fund to help eight to 10 businesses on Penn Avenue near Children’s Hospital which are struggling to survive because of a marathon construction project that has hampered access to their properties. Board members were told some of the merchants have lost 80 percent of their business.

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

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