Hill leaders issue arena demands
Ask for $10 million for development, share of revenue, guarantee of jobs in meeting with Ravenstahl, Onorato
Friday, April 06, 2007
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Hill District business leaders and clergy want $10 million in development funding, a share of arena revenue and guaranteed jobs for minorities as part of a construction surge that includes a new venue for the Penguins.
The demands were made in a proposed term sheet given to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato at a meeting yesterday at Wesley Center African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
Around 20 neighborhood leaders spent two hours behind closed doors with Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Onorato, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, state Rep. Jake Wheatley and city Councilwoman Tonya Payne.
"What came out of today's meeting was an agreement to make sure there's a benefit" to the community, said Marimba Milliones, an organizer of the Greater Hill Coalition of Concerned Citizens.
"I think it was a good step in the right direction, but we still need to arrive at a firm understanding between all parties of what the relationship between our government agencies, private interests and the Hill District will be."
There was not unanimous agreement. Some of those attending the meeting said the terms didn't reflect a broad consensus.
The proposed three-page term sheet would give an unspecified group or representative of the Hill a seat at the table with the city, county, Penguins and involved developers in talks on construction of the arena and revival of the surrounding area.
As part of the development package, $10 million up front and an unspecified annual contribution for 30 years thereafter would "be directed to the Greater Hill District community's development interest." The term sheet doesn't specify who would control those funds.
An unspecified percentage of the revenue from the new arena and surrounding development would be reinvested in the Hill. The developer would also have to fund a master planning process for "the entire Greater Hill District community."
Thirty percent of all arena employees at each job level -- from unskilled laborers to supervisors, managers and executives -- would have to be "minorities of color." The 30 percent rule would also apply to construction and development jobs.
"When people are working to rebuild their community that means a lot, especially to young people," said the Rev. Johnnie Monroe, pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church.
An organization picked by the community would have the right to take title to city-owned or county-owned Hill land at no cost, provided it presented a development plan.
"I think the important thing is that we came to a tangible agreement that respects the needs and agenda of the Hill District community," said Ms. Milliones, declining to discuss details.
Supporters of the terms want elected officials to use their leverage to help get the Penguins and casino developer Don Barden to agree to them.
The approach, though, didn't sit well with Ms. Payne, who said the terms were developed by a few people without the benefit of neighborhood meetings. She added that putting ambitious terms on the table without full community buy-in likely wouldn't work.
"I really believe that the Penguins want to work with this community and want to be good neighbors," she said. "But you've got to give them a chance to do good in the community, not come in and say, 'Do one, two, three, or I'll knock you out.' "
"It seemed like these groups were trying to position themselves to try to receive any kind of funds that's going to come into the area," said Pearlean Coleman, a Democratic Committee leader from the Lower Hill who attended the meeting.
Mr. Wheatley, who supported the approach, said it's important to ensure that Hill leaders get control of some of the incoming development dollars associated with the $290 million arena and a hoped-for $350 million redevelopment of parts of the Lower Hill District.
"We could have significant new dollars coming in to develop the Hill in a way that not only helps visitors, but the people who live here," he said. "Like we've always said, this is a new day for the Hill."
Talks on the terms will now move to a smaller group including two representatives of the Hill, two from the mayor's office, two from county government and someone from the Sports & Exhibition Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
"There were a lot of issues that, say, there wasn't consensus yet, but we want this [smaller] group to work them out," said Mr. Onorato.
The end product should be a written "community benefits agreement," the mayor said.
"Included in that ideally would be the specifics of community involvement," Mr. Ravenstahl said, adding that the Penguins and Mr. Barden would be invited to a future meeting. They were not represented yesterday.
Mr. Barden, in his successful application for the city's lone slot machine casino license, said he'd pay $7.5 million a year toward arena financing, and help spur $350 million in new construction nearby. His casino is slated for the North Shore.