Common ground: The Penguins’ plan would serve the community

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It’s time for everyone with a stake in the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena to let the professionals get to work.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, which hold the development rights, have until Oct. 31 to get started on the first phase of what eventually will be a multimillion-dollar housing, office and commercial project. In September, the team selected the St. Louis firm of McCormack Baron Salazar to lead the residential portion, with an initial 200 to 300 units of mixed-income housing.

Since then, despite ongoing discussions between the Penguins and Hill District leaders, some in the community remain dissatisfied with how much of the housing will be reserved for low-income residents. McCormack Baron conducted an evaluation of housing needs in the area and concluded that setting aside 20 percent of the units at the low end is the correct target. City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill, is among those who think the figure should be 30 percent.

In the last six months, the parties have failed to come to an understanding, and the team has yet to submit its preliminary land development plan for the site.

McCormack Baron Salazar has a proven track record, both across the country and right in the neighborhood, where it built Crawford Square, the successful 400-unit housing development in the Lower Hill that includes rentals and for-sale homes.

When making tough decisions, relying on history is usually a smart choice. In this case, the smart choice is the one that the team already made in selecting McCormack Baron. The firm put together its target of 20 percent based on expertise, not conjecture.

Housing is just one feature of the Penguins’ plan, and it’s important to put it in context. The overall project eventually could create thousands of permanent jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city, its school district and Allegheny County.

Nobody wants this project to fail. Nobody wants the Penguins to miss the Oct. 31 deadline. It’s time for the Penguins’ plan for housing to move forward so work on the site can start on time.

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