Hill coalition approves deal for arena site
Project to provide $2 million funding for fiscal 'anchor'
May 11, 2008
By: Joe Smydo
In what its leadership called a historic occasion, the One Hill Community Benefits Coalition yesterday ratified a deal that would help pave the way for construction of a new hockey arena and redevelopment of the current Mellon Arena site.
Evan Frazier, the coalition's chief negotiator, said the talks leading to the ratification vote "made sure the community really had a voice" in the development plans. Coalition Chairman Carl Redwood Jr. said the agreement with the city, county and Penguins ensures the hockey team will be a neighbor in what he called an up-and-coming neighborhood.
The coalition comprises 97 community groups, and each had a vote. Only about 58 percent of members cast ballots, but Mr. Redwood said he was satisfied with that number.
Forty-two members voted for the agreement, 13 voted against it and one abstained, said Alma Speed Fox, the coalition's judge of election.
State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, and members of another neighborhood group, the Hill Faith and Justice Alliance, sought additional incentives and urged coalition members to vote against the agreement. Mr. Redwood said the alliance is not a coalition member.
County Chief Executive Dan Onorato called the vote a "very positive step," his spokesman, Kevin Evanto, said.
The deal, which still must go through city and county approval processes and be signed by all parties, would:
• Provide $2 million, including $1 million from the Penguins, to finance a grocery store or other economic "anchor."
• Create a Neighborhood Partnership Program, giving businesses state tax credits for contributing to neighborhood development projects. Coalition officials said the program could draw $6 million over 12 years.
• Give Hill District residents preference for arena-related jobs and commit the parties to the creation of family-sustaining jobs, with health benefits, in the 28-acre Mellon Arena redevelopment zone.
• Establish a career center, partly funded for two years by the city and county, and require government officials to help the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh develop a multipurpose center for youths, families and seniors.
• Require the city and county to fund a master plan for Hill development.
The Penguins would not submit a proposal for redeveloping the Mellon Arena site until the master plan is completed in October 2009, and redevelopment would have to conform to the master plan.
Mr. Wheatley and the Justice and Faith Alliance decried the Penguins' total financial contribution -- the $1 million for the grocery store -- and sought additional incentives given the scope of the Mellon Arena project.
During a press conference at Hope Square, coalition officials and supporters said the agreement is unusual because it's legally binding and includes a wide range of incentives.
"That's true community empowerment," said City Councilwoman Tonya Payne, who represents the Hill District.
The agreement came after months of talks that Mr. Frazier called a "labor of love." Coalition officials said they didn't get all they wanted, but said they expect further negotiations as plans for the Mellon Arena site become clear.
"All options are available," Mr. Redwood said.
Asked about additional talks, Mr. Evanto said, "One step at a time."