Officials to announce $19 million grant to reconnect Hill District, Downtown
The grant will help fund construction of a deck over Crosstown Boulevard as part of larger project at former arena site.
July 26, 2016 1:35 PM
Wind-swept flags at Consol Energy Center frame the parking lot where the Civic Arena once stood in Pittsburgh's Hill District.
Centre Avenue in the Hill District with a view of Downtown and the U.S. Steel Tower.
By Mark Belko / PIttsburgh Post-Gazette
It has been more than half a century since the Hill District flowed directly into Downtown. But the award of a coveted federal grant could make that possible again — and provide a shot in the arm for the overall redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site.
U.S. Department of Transportation officials are expected to announce Friday the award of a $19 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant to help build a deck over Crosstown Boulevard.
The deck is a key element in a bid to reunite the Hill and Downtown. It is part of a larger plan proposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins to rebuild the street grid on the former arena site and link it to the Hill. The deck would complete the circuit.
Local political leaders, led by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, have been lobbying for several years to try to secure a TIGER grant for the project. Three times they failed but the fourth proved to be the charm, with the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority getting the full $19 million it had requested.
Mr. Doyle, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald released a statement Tuesday confirming the award. The Department of Transportation has yet to make any announcements regarding 2016 TIGER grants, a spokesman said.
The allocation will be enough to build the deck, which is expected to cost $26.4 million. The rest of the money will come from state and local sources, including two local foundations, SEA executive director Mary Conturo said. The Penguins will chip in $900,000.
Construction is expected to start next summer or fall and take two years to complete.
“This award will help heal one of Pittsburgh’s worst efforts at urban renewal, when decades ago city planners separated the Hill District from Downtown and cut the life blood from one [of] our most historic communities,” Mr. Peduto said.
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill, called the award of the grant “a big step” toward reversing that damage. “This opens up an opportunity to reestablish that connection,” he said, adding he is just as excited about the potential economic benefits the link can provide between the Hill and Downtown.
While the deck won’t fully restore what was lost decades ago, “it certainly will be 100 times better than what we currently have,” he said.
“We’re very gratified to see this happen,” Mr. Doyle noted. “It’s going to go a long way toward making that development a big benefit to the lower Hill as well as to Downtown Pittsburgh.”
Travis Williams, the Penguins’ chief operating officer, said the award also could serve as a spark for the overall redevelopment of the 28-acre arena site, with the plans for offices, retail, and 1,200 units of housing.
That effort suffered a huge setback last fall when financially struggling U.S. Steel abandoned plans to build a headquarters on the lower Hill property, and the Penguins, who own the development rights to the land, have been trying since to recover the momentum.
Mr. Williams said one big factor potential office tenants often discuss is connectivity to Downtown. The deck, he noted, “certainly will be a huge catalyst in advancing those discussions.” The Penguins have been talking to several companies about replacing U.S. Steel, although no deals have been finalized.
The connection also could help attract residents to the proposed housing, Mr. Williams said. “Having a feature like this will add to the marquee nature of what this site can become,” he said.
Initial plans call for a park to be placed on top of the deck. In filings with the city, the Penguins also have proposed a stand-alone pavilion with a restaurant and outdoor dining or a retail destination with outdoor seating as part of the amenities. A tree-lined promenade with gardens and benches could double of an overlook with views of the Downtown skyline.
The TIGER grant is the third the region has received the last few years. A $15 million grant was awarded for a $150 million transit center in East Liberty that opened last fall and a $10 million grant was allocated to build a flyover ramp from the Rankin Bridge to the Carrie Furnace site.
All of the grants have been awarded in Mr. Doyle’s district. He credits the teamwork among political leaders at the local, state and federal levels as a big reason for the success. Persistence helps, too, he pointed out. “[U.S. Transportation] Sec. [Anthony] Foxx, he knows any time he bumps into me what’s going to happen,” Mr. Doyle said. “He just smiles.”
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262.
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