No year’s delay: Bring in the mayor to broker a deal on the arena site

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In 2007, when it looked like the Penguins might skip town after their Civic Arena lease expired, it took powerful arm-twisting by Gov. Ed Rendell to get a deal that led to construction of the Consol Energy Center.

Bringing in the big dog worked, and it’s time to use that strategy to get the housing, office and commercial development near the new hockey venue moving. This time, the force to be reckoned with should be Mayor Bill Peduto.

The Penguins and community leaders in the Hill District have been stuck for more than a year on details of a plan for the 28 acres. There are two major points of contention: the level of minority participation in the project and how much of the housing to be built will be affordable to a sector of the population.

On project work, community leaders want 35 percent to go to racial minorities and 15 percent to women, which is higher than the ratios of 25 percent and 10 percent that have been in effect on other city projects. On housing, Hill leaders want 30 percent of the units to be affordable for people who make 30 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median income. The Penguins’ residential developer, McCormack Baron Salazar, has recommended making 20 percent of the units available to those earning 80 percent of the median. That’s a considerable difference, but it also leaves a lot of room for negotiation.

The deadline hanging over the discussions is getting in the way of progress because it’s being used as a threat. If the Penguins don’t take possession of the first parcel by Oct. 31, they could lose lucrative development rights to the land, which is 10 percent of the 28-acre tract. Because of the complexity of preparing the property and the process of negotiating, the team is seeking a one-year delay.

This project offers the potential for a dramatic remake of a neighborhood that was destroyed when the Civic Arena was built, and any bugs must be worked out. But that shouldn’t take 12 more months.

A delay of 90 days ought to be enough to craft an agreement that has solid community support and can win approval from the city planning commission and city council. That can happen only if all parties are willing to give a little.

Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto’s chief of staff who also is head of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, has been part of the talks, but it’s time for the mayor to get personally involved. Mr. Peduto has the authority of his office and a solid reputation in the Hill District. For added muscle, he can bring along his political and governmental ally, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Neither the community nor the Penguins wants this key development to fall through. If it does, everybody loses.

Meet the Editorial Board.

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