Hill groups pitch broader development opportunities

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Two Hill District groups are pressing the Penguins for commitments on jobs, housing, business opportunities and even a share of parking revenues as part of the hockey team's plans to redevelop the former Civic Arena site.

The Hill Community Development Corp. and the Hill District Consensus Group believe the neighborhood and its residents should benefit from residential, office and commercial development envisioned for the 28-acre parcel by the Penguins, who are a few weeks away from taking their plans to the city for approval.

The groups want to build off a community benefits agreement signed in 2008 that was tied to the construction of Consol Energy Center. That accord provided $2 million -- half from the Penguins and half from the city Urban Redevelopment Authority -- toward development of a Hill grocery store, creation of a resource center to link residents to jobs, and a one-week head start in applying for arena-related service jobs.

At the site that opened up when the Civic Arena came down, stakeholders have the chance to create a national model for development, one that not only generates quality projects but also lifts the fortunes of the neighborhood and the region, said Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corp.

"If we all can't come together to make this a once-in-a-generation model -- because it's a once-in-a-generation opportunity -- then shame on all of us," she said.

The Hill CDC has developed six focus areas to address in conjunction with the development in the lower Hill just below Crawford Square. Those areas are the product of community meetings that drew hundreds of people.

One includes a commitment from the Penguins for 35 percent minority-owned and 15 percent women-owned business participation in the "ownership, development, design, construction, operation and management" of the redevelopment. That's higher than city goals for general projects of 18 and 7 percent, and the county's at 13 and 2 percent.

The organization also is seeking training and job opportunities -- professional, skilled and unskilled labor -- for Hill residents and for those in other mostly African-American or minority communities related to all aspects of the development. It wants to create "wealth building" initiatives that would cultivate opportunities for residents to participate in the redevelopment by forming their own businesses.

The Hill District Consensus Group, meanwhile, has been pitching a plan to get the Penguins to donate $1 from daily parking fees at public lots that the team controls around the arena to a Hill improvement fund. The money would be used to make home repairs, provide transportation for Hill residents, spruce up business corridors, and improve playing fields and cultural arts programs.

The group is calling for 30 percent of all housing at the site to be for low-income residents. It also is seeking opportunities for Hill residents or businesses to be part owners in some commercial ventures there or, as a possible alternative, have 20 percent of all commercial development set aside for Hill businesses.

Both organizations are urging the Penguins to incorporate elements of Hill history into the site, which at one time was an integral part of the neighborhood before homes and businesses were demolished to make way for the Civic Arena.

The consensus group is specifically calling for completion of a public art project next to Consol Energy Center titled "Curtain Call," which pays homage to the Hill. It has been held up because of a lack of funding.

"The issue is that we want to mark this as the Hill District. They want to mark it as the Penguins," said Carl Redwood, head of the consensus group.

Mr. Redwood said his organization will not support the Penguins' redevelopment plans or a possible tax increment financing package to help pay for site infrastructure unless the team agrees to the proposals.

"We're gearing up to stop it if it doesn't happen," he said.

One key point of contention could be housing, which likely will account for the first development, perhaps as an extension of Crawford Square.

The Hill CDC and city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle want for-sale housing included in the mix of residential options. Mr. Lavelle said studies have shown that when homeownership drops below 30 percent, it contributes to higher levels of crime and lower performing schools. He said the Hill is now at 27 percent homeownership.

Ms. Milliones agreed, saying, "It's incumbent upon the Penguins to explore that fully and bring some options to the table."

Travis Williams, the Penguins chief operating officer, said the team is open-minded about the potential mix of housing, but added that a lot will be driven by market demand. "It's not that we're saying we're resistant to it. It's that we're saying we'll take a look at it and see what the market dictates," he said.

He stressed the team has been working in collaboration with the Hill CDC to help achieve the focus area goals.

"This has been a really positive process. It's not been a process of demand and negotiation. That's not the approach we've taken. It's been very collaborative with a lot of input on both sides. It's one we feel very positive about," he said.

Mr. Williams added he did not view either the Hill CDC or consensus group objectives as demands.

"We view it more as responsible development that will allow the community to benefit," he said. "If the development side and the community side approach it that way, I think it can be a win-win."

He said the team showed a willingness and desire to work with the community during the Consol project, achieving 24 percent minority-owned and 7 percent women-owned business participation, slightly lower than the goals of 25 percent minority and 10 percent women.

Of the 861 jobs filled at Consol, almost 35 percent were filled by Hill residents and more than 40 percent by minorities, Mr. Williams said.

But Ms. Milliones said the Consol community benefits agreement was not comprehensive enough. She sees the current discussions involving the Civic Arena site as a way of accomplishing more.

"What happens there impacts the whole neighborhood," she said. "The massiveness of the site will put us on a track. Whether it's the right track or the wrong track will be based on the level of work we can do at the front end."

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


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