The public's limits: Peduto has the right idea on the Penguins' plans

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Pittsburgh's mayor-apparent is a big hockey fan, but Bill Peduto's not going to be a pushover when it comes to negotiating with the Penguins over team plans for redevelopment in the lower Hill District.

Mr. Peduto, the city councilman and Democratic nominee for mayor, wants to make sure public investment in the Penguins' development of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site directly benefits the Hill District and Uptown neighborhoods that surround it.

He put the team on notice of his approach in a letter he sent in connection with an $18 million federal grant that the team and the Pittsburgh Sports & Exhibition Authority were seeking. If Mr. Peduto had his way, that grant -- which would have helped to pay for $40 million worth of roads, utilities and other infrastructure -- would have required the team to involve more community groups in their planning process and use some of the money to improve parts of streets near Consol Energy Center. And he said that would have been the end of public subsidies for the development.

On Thursday, though, the team learned its application was denied. So what now of Mr. Peduto's tough talk?

The team and SEA can and should resubmit the federal application. If that fails, he's willing to consider a tax increment financing plan, in which taxing bodies agree to give up future tax revenue for a specific period so it can be used to cover the cost of improvements. But Mr. Peduto would attach more strings to ensure the extension of street, sidewalk and lighting improvements to Crawford Avenue, Pride Street and Fifth Avenue. And then the team couldn't ask for any more taxpayer investment.

Mr. Peduto correctly notes that the Penguins already have hefty public support for the project, including a $15 million state grant, access to $15 million in credits to buy land from the SEA, the possibility of a state loan and revenue from parking near Consol.

Mr. Peduto's approach of requiring TIF recipients to improve more than their own land is an improvement on past practices. His principled stance is not mean-spirited; it's public-spirited because the city cannot afford to provide an endless supply of incentives for the successful sports franchise.

A future mayor has obligations that must outweigh his support for the home team.

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