Bill Peduto envisions Downtown Pittsburgh as a "mini-Manhattan" -- one that hardly ever sleeps -- with more housing, unique local retailers and even a free bus loop system to chauffeur riders from one destination to the next.
But Mr. Peduto's vision also includes an expanded role for Allegheny County in financing the kind of big ticket development, from skyscrapers to office-to-residential conversions, that have already helped fuel the resurgence of the city center.
While the Democratic mayoral nominee is all for a vibrant Golden Triangle, he argues the city should not have to shoulder the burden when it comes to dispensing limited public funds for development. The county should be stepping up to the plate as well.
"Downtown is the region's living room, not just the city's," he said.
By way of example, Mr. Peduto said that if the city and county each receive $40 million in state capital funding and the Penguins want $20 million for redevelopment of the Civic Arena site, the city and county each should take money from their respective shares to meet the request. The entire $20 million shouldn't fall on the city, he said.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Mr. Peduto's biggest supporter in his mayoral bid, concurs with that approach.
"I think Bill's right. I think there needs to be more coordination on big projects Downtown between the city and the county," he said.
Mr. Fitzgerald said that has happened at times in the past -- such as with a $15 million state capital request for infrastructure funding for the arena site -- but too often it hasn't.
"I think you're going to see more collaboration on those big projects," he said. "I think that's what we need to do. It comes down, obviously, to priorities, but Bill and I are usually in agreement on those priorities."
Such cooperation would free up more of the city's capital dollars to plow into neighborhoods such as Sheraden, Beechview, Allentown and Manchester that haven't seen a lot of investment, Mr. Peduto said.
"We just can't throw those neighborhoods away. Our focus has to change," he said. "Downtown shouldn't be the focus of the city's economic development strategy. We need to build out our neighborhoods."
At the same time, Mr. Peduto, a prohibitive favorite to win the general election in November in a race against Republican nominee Josh Wander, wants to build on Downtown's burgeoning housing market.
The number of units in Downtown and at its fringes has grown from 884 to 4,280 since 1960, and there are nearly 2,400 more in the pipeline. The city councilman believes there's room for much more.
He would like to see as many as 20,000 new units created over the next 10 years in what he calls the "Golden Quadrangle" -- Downtown, the Strip District, the North Shore and the South Shore.
"We have a great opportunity for it. It really is unique. It's something you can't find in Bethel Park. It's something people ... find attractive and unique," he said.
He called the parking lots on the east side of Station Square "some of the most underutilized" land in America, adding that they are a prime spot for apartments or condos. He said the same applies to land between Heinz Field and PNC Park on the North Shore.
"The options have been done for having 18 different places to get a beer after a Pirates game. The option that hasn't been done is housing," he said.
Mr. Peduto would like to find ways to better link the various sectors Downtown -- Market Square, Grant Street, the Cultural District, the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor -- whether it's through housing or restaurant rows or other means.
The goal, he said, is to get each to feed off the other. Rather than having just one area of Downtown filled with activity and things to do 16 to 18 hours a day, all of them would be.
"Downtown should be a mini-Manhattan," he said.
Mr. Peduto said he would like to see the city center become a mecca for unique locally owned retailers rather than large national ones. He wants to see the upper floors of smaller vacant or underutilized buildings turned into housing or used for other purposes, perhaps with the help of the tax abatements he has championed.
Both the housing and retail strategies are in keeping with the way Downtown has already been moving, with a mix of street-level retail and upper-floor residential uses. Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has been at the forefront of that effort and now is working to establish a women's fashion district Downtown.
Arthur Ziegler, president of the history and landmarks foundation, said he does not envision any problems working with Mr. Peduto on Downtown development.
The foundation brought two local retailers -- Heinz Healey's men's store and the Nettleton Shop shoe store -- into its Market at Fifth development and is working to convert another building in Market Square for mixed use, perhaps with a grocery.
"I think everything he is saying is just right," Mr. Ziegler said.
While Mr. Peduto sees a need for some additional parking Downtown, he doesn't think it has to be as much as some believe.
He would prefer improving mass transit and using smart technology such as cell phone apps to help people find spaces in garages or to extend their time on street meters, rather than build more garage space.
The creation of some type of free loop system that would drop off riders at various points Downtown, rather than running virtually every bus through the heart of the city, could be a way to lessen congestion and pollution, he believes.
During his years on council, Mr. Peduto -- at times -- has ruffled the feathers of Downtown development interests, many of whom supported his chief opponent, former state auditor general Jack Wagner, in the primary.
Mr. Wagner criticized the councilman for voting against $18 million in tax increment financing for the Three PNC Plaza office, residential and hotel project in 2006, saying the development was a "catalyst to make things happen" Downtown. Mr. Peduto has defended the vote, noting that PNC Financial Services Group had received a $30 million state grant to help finance the construction, a subsidy he supported, and that he didn't think there was a need for more.
The councilman also has tangled with the Steelers and Pirates and their developer, Continental Real Estate Cos., over the price of land between Heinz Field and PNC Park, and over missed deadlines for development between the two North Shore stadiums. Steelers president Art Rooney II and Penguins CEO David Morehouse co-hosted a $1,000-a-person fundraiser for Mr. Wagner in April.
Mr. Peduto reiterated that he wanted the Steelers and the Pirates to follow the letter of the option agreement for development of the North Shore land and to pay fair market value for any property they take down for construction.
The development rights to what he called the "most valuable land in Western Pennsylvania" was a "nice gift from the people of the city of Pittsburgh, and they need to abide by the rules," he said.
In response, Barry Ford, Continental's president of development, said, "I look forward to working with the new mayor and continuing our success on the North Shore. I welcome the opportunity to work with the city on all development options, including residential."
Mr. Peduto also hasn't endeared himself to the Penguins by supporting a proposal by the Hill District Consensus Group to get the hockey team to donate $1 from each of the daily parking fees at public lots it controls around Consol Energy Center to a Hill improvement fund.
Furthermore, he opposed the demolition of the Civic Arena to make way for a 28-acre residential, office and commercial redevelopment proposed by the Penguins, who hold the development rights to the land as part of a 2007 agreement to build the new arena.
He said he supports the $1-a-car parking proposal because it would allow the Hill to be a beneficiary of the 28-acre development "and not a bystander."
In addition, he would like to see the Penguins' redevelopment plans broadened to include more of the Hill above Crawford Square. If development is confined only to the 28 acres, it will have failed, he said.
In response, Mr. Morehouse said, "We look forward to developing the 28 acres and we've been working closely with the elected leaders and community leaders that represent Downtown and the Hill District, and we look forward to continuing to figure out ways that we can help the community.
"We already put $1 million into the development of a grocery store, which is almost completed. We raised another $3 million from our corporate partners for other projects in the Hill."
Mr. Morehouse said that as a result of a community benefits agreement with Hill leaders, about 45 percent of the jobs at Consol Energy Center, a TGI Friday's restaurant and a Cambria Suites hotel came from the Hill through a jobs center set up there. The Penguins, he added, also have raised more than $10 million through the Lemieux Foundation for cancer research.
"Community involvement has always been a focus of the Penguins and our ownership group and will always continue to be," he said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262. First Published June 2, 2013 4:00 AM