Economic Justice Battle in Pittsburgh

12 30 Civic Arena

The site of the former Civic Arena in the lower Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Hill District leaders urge affordable housing, funding in Penguins’ arena redevelopment

By Tim Schooley

Beaver County Blue via Pittsburgh Business Times

June 12, 2014 – It wasn’t written in as part of the agenda for the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting.

But a court-required status update by the Sports & Exhibition Authority on the progress of the former arena site redevelopment by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Lower Hill District came with a call by community groups for more affordable housing and for funding applications to include more of the neighborhood.

The leadership of the Hill Community Development Corp., the Hill Consensus Group and One Pittsburgh used what was otherwise a routine update on the process of applying for grants and building roads and sewer systems into a call for the Pittsburgh Penguins to meet more of their demands and concerns.

Carl Redwood, a community organizer for the Hill District Consensus Group, criticized an established variance approved by the ZBA for the Pittsburgh Penguins that allows the team to generate private revenue from the publicly owned arena site while the SEA applies for state and federal grants and loans to subsidize development plans for the 28 acre property.

In reiterating a call for a $1 per car fund from the parking revenue to invest in community improvements, Redwood expressed a concern in the city’s African American community that new development will result in displacing established residents who lack the income to be included in them.

“We’re requesting the department of city planning join us in requesting that the Penguins and the SEA conduct a fair housing market study to determine the likely racial composition of housing that’s redeveloped in the Lower Hill district under their proposed development plan,” said Redwood. “We’re concerned that the Penguins proposed housing prices will effectively exclude the vast majority of low income and African American households from living in a redeveloped Hill District.”

The actual status update provided on behalf of the SEA by Ben Kelley, a project manager for Oxford Development Co., inventoried the progress on the arena site, including state and federal grant applications such as a $22 million federal TIGER grant.

He said the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority will begin construction on separating a sewer line on Centre Avenue this summer. Final design of new streets through the site are expected to be completed by the fall, he added, with construction to begin in phases to start next spring.

Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corp., expressed concerns over housing along with building heights and that the neighborhood’s Centre Avenue business district is being excluded from funding opportunities.

“The Hill District in general provides the opportunity to access federal dollars to do all these million dollar developments,” said Milliones, noting how the territory in the funding applications didn’t extend past the site. “We were particularly surprised that not only was Centre not included but Fifth and Pride and parts of Washington Place were included.”

The community leaders sought repeatedly for future opportunities to meet with the Penguins and the SEA and Milliones said her organization would withhold its support for a final plan until some of her issues were resolved.

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