City may declare arena site blighted

That would allow city to raise money to develop there

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The city may seek to have the land that houses the Civic Arena declared blighted as a means to generate funding for road, sewer and other improvements to help spur development.

Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said Wednesday the blight designation is one tool the city is considering to help raise money for infrastructure improvements on the 28-acre site. Those improvements have been estimated at $40 million.

A declaration of blight would allow the city to use tax increment financing to help raise the money. Tax increment financing, or TIF, redirects a portion of the property tax revenue generated by development to fund improvements.

Mr. Zober said the blight designation and possible TIF district are but "one piece of a broader puzzle" in finding the money to help finance the work.

"The search for funding is on. We're rolling up our sleeves and looking for those funds," Mr. Zober said.

"The sooner we can determine how to get public infrastructure to the site, the sooner we can get new jobs and new residential opportunities on a key piece of land bridging Downtown, Uptown and the Hill District."

The city, the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority -- the arena's owner -- and the Penguins also are considering state and federal sources for funding.

Officials sought $28 million in funding from the federal government in 2009 and 2010 for infrastructure improvements, but that request so far has gone nowhere.

Mary Conturo, the SEA's executive director, said she believes local officials will continue to lobby for federal funding, even though such overtures may generate their own share of controversy.

Before the razing of the Civic Arena began earlier this month, Preservation Pittsburgh, a local historic preservation group, argued that the SEA was trying to circumvent federal preservation law and engaged in "anticipatory demolition" that could jeopardize federal funding for redevelopment.

"The Civic Arena is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If the SEA still intends to apply for federal funding, then the demolition of the arena now must only be to evade federal preservation law," Scott Leib, president of Preservation Pittsburgh, said Tuesday.

Despite such concerns, Ms. Conturo didn't see any problem with seeking and securing federal funding for infrastructure work.

"We're working closely with our legal counsel on that issue, and we don't think there's any jeopardy of us being able to receive federal funding if it becomes available," she said.

The arena is being demolished to clear the way for a residential, commercial and office development proposed by the Penguins. The team holds the development rights to the 28-acre arena site as part of the 2007 deal to build the Consol Energy Center and keep the franchise in Pittsburgh. Part of the team's plan is to rebuild a street grid similar to the one that connected the Hill District and Downtown before the arena opened in 1961.

City Urban Redevelopment Authority board members already have agreed to hire a consultant to develop a basic conditions report for the property, a first step toward a blight designation and creation of a TIF district. The exact amount of any TIF has not been decided.

Ms. Conturo said the SEA hopes to be ready to begin design for the road improvements by early 2012 and start construction a year later. She and Mr. Zober said not all of the estimated $40 million would be needed right away since the work will be done in phases.


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


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