Hill District leaders critical of Penguins' site plans
September 19, 2013 8:00 AM
In a conceptual view of what the new development at the former Civic Arena site could look like, Consol Energy Center and the Epiphany Church are seen on the far right. Final plans have not been determined.
By Mark Belko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Some Hill District leaders are throwing hard checks over the Pittsburgh Penguins' plans for new residential housing at the former Civic Arena site.
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said Wednesday he's not happy with the percentage of units the team plans to set aside for lower-income residents or the amount of work it has indicated that it is willing to give to minority developers.
Representatives for the Hill Community Development Corp. and the Hill District Consensus Group joined Mr. Lavelle in criticizing those aspects of the plan Wednesday.
While Mr. Lavelle has no qualms with Penguins' choice of McCormack Baron Salazar as the lead residential developer for the 28-acre site, he said they must increase the number of units available to lower-income residents as well as the number to be developed by a minority-owned firm to win his support.
"McCormack Baron as a company is a strong developer. Our concern isn't about the capability to develop, it's more around their commitment to help the community grow as they prosper," he said.
In announcing the selection of McCormack Baron, which built the Crawford Square housing development in the lower Hill, the Penguins stated that at least 20 percent of the new units would be affordable to lower-income residents.
But Mr. Lavelle, who represents the Hill, and officials with the Hill CDC and the Hill consensus group argue that the percentage of affordable housing should be 30 percent, as called for in the Hill District master plan.
"I believe that it's a moral imperative to ensure that working-class families of all incomes have" access to housing at the arena site, said Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill CDC.
Carl Redwood, head of the consensus group, said that if the Penguins build 1,180 residential units at the former arena site, the Hill master plan calls for 30 percent -- or 354 -- to be classified as affordable to households earning 50 percent of the average median household income.
Furthermore, of those 354, the master plan requires half of them to be designated as affordable to those earning 30 percent of the average median household income.
The Penguins have refused to go that far. They have designated at least 20 percent of the units as affordable, with affordable defined as households earning 80 percent of the average median income.
But Ms. Milliones said at that rate, a one-bedroom apartment still would run $850 to $900 a month.
She stressed that there needs to be a "greater mix of affordability" to bring income and racial diversity to the development.
Travis Williams, the Penguins' chief operating officer, said the Penguins and the developer are open to further discussing the issue.
But he added that going above 20 percent at 80 percent of the average median income could be difficult "given the complexity of developing residential housing at the density levels being proposed."
In other words, a higher percentage of affordable housing could throw off the financing formulas needed to make the development work.
But Ms. Milliones didn't see that as insurmountable.
"I would simply say that McCormack Baron Salazar has done affordable housing throughout the country and I would think that they could bring some very creative solutions to the Penguins in order to deliver 30 percent," she said.
While McCormack Baron will be the lead residential developer, the Penguins also plan to work with Hill leaders to hire a minority-owned company to build at least 200 units of housing at the site.
But Mr. Lavelle and Ms. Milliones would like to see that number increased to at least 400, whether one or multiple minority developers are involved.
In addition, Mr. Lavelle wants to see minority-owned firms hired to work alongside McCormack Baron on the units it will be developing at the site, which is owned by the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority and the city Urban Redevelopment Authority.
He said it is important that the former arena redevelopment creates a new legacy for the Hill and provides opportunities at every level for Hill residents, most of whom are African American, and minority contractors and vendors.
"It does us no good simply to allow a major developer from out of town to come in and reap the benefit without ensuring those here also benefit," he said.
Mr. Williams said 200 units is the minimum target for a minority developer and that the number could be increased to 300 or 400 depending on market demands.
The Penguins and McCormack Baron are hoping to start the first phase of housing -- 200 to 300 units -- in early 2015 as part of a broader redevelopment that eventually will include 600,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of retail.