Friday, January 11, 2008

Letter to the Penguins

To Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle, Ray Shero and the entire Pittsburgh Penguins organization,

We hope 2008 is finding you well. Before we go any further, congratulations on the winning streak!

Neighbors in your community, self-organized into the One Hill CBA coalition and into other bodies, have come together to ask of you that you share some investment resources throughout the greater Hill District, on targeted initiatives.

We do not know the details of their needs, desires and priorities -- but we are writing to tell you that the principle of partnering with these neighborhood groups is sound, and that finding ways to invest in many of their ideas can only work to the benefit of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

We are also writing to stress that given the history of large-scale development in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and given the community's experiences depending upon the government infrastructure to follow through on promises, it is critical in this instance that any pledges of support be backed up with signatures on paper.

Governmental officials of the city and county are likely to oppose the idea, on the principle that all of your cash ought to be funneled directly into the government infrastructure, where it will be invested wisely. We know they will also cast aspersions on the motives these Hill District groups, and play up minor divisions between them.

First we ask that you judge One Hill and others on the basis of what they bring to you, not on what we are told through the media and through government officials.

Second, we ask that you judge the government infrastructure on the basis of their own history in the Hill District and their more recent track record in the region.

We are confident you will make the right decision.


Imagine, for a moment, a Hill District with an encouraging, small-scale development boomlet going on, extending from the Penguins arena to the east, and embedded within the neighborhoods.

Imagine providing a bedrock for city residents that may have grown up mistrustful of you, but are now pursuing lifelong dreams because of you -- dreams like grocery stores and active community centers, humble dreams of the sort people desperate to improve their community dream.

We see the Mario Lemieux this and the Sydney Crosby that scattered throughout the neighborhood. We see a meaningful African-American fan base developing that will dynamically increase merchandising and will be a vanguard movement in the National Hockey League.

We see an opportunity -- after ongoing rounds of investment deliberations, after many successes and some failures -- we see the Penguins elevated to the most rarified strata of historic Pittsburgh entrepreneurism, which includes not just the Rooneys, but the Mellons and the Schenleys and many others as well. We have a rich history.

Again, we are sure you'll make a wise decision.

If you are impressed and intrigued by what your One Hill neighbors bring to the table, please consider delaying action at the Planning Commission for another week or two, in order to iron out details and get something in writing.

The history of this situation, of Hill District residents receiving assurances from their government, requires in this case some form of binding CBA between themselves and the Penguins. It is critical that their agreements be treated with dignity this time.


Bram Reichbaum
The Pittsburgh Comet


  1. A long time ago in one of these posts, a commenter named "BYL" asked a question. It was just called to our attention.

    "But my key comment is: who are you? Do you live in the Hill? Why do you feel you need to get after One Hill about anything? Do you know how and why the group formed? Have you been to even one meeting?
    If not, how is it your place to comment on these issues?"

    Thanks for asking, BYL.

    No I had not gone to any One Hill meetings by the time of your comment, but I did attend the last one, in which the Rev. Smith made his request it was approved by the membership. A beautiful moment.

    I'm a lifelong Pittsburgher who lives on the North Side, but I grew up in Squirrel Hill and will probably move back one day.

    (I think as a Pittsburgher alone, that gives me a right to mouth off.)

    I'm also a product of the Hill. My one grandfather, Bernard Reichbaum, owned Reicbaum's Delicattesen on 5th Avenue (I think it was the 1200 or 1400 block). They sold deli meats and staples and canned goods.

    That's right, a grocery store in the Hill District.

    I am told he invented shopping carts, although his were made of wood. I am told he was known for being very strict, even mean, especially with unruly kids in the store. My grandmother Anna Reichbaum worked behind the deli herself.

    My other grandfather, Joseph Wesoky, also owned property in the Hill, and had some business interests in the neighborhood. That is everything I know about my grandfather Joe Wesoky.

    That doesn't mean I grew up knowing a lot about the Hill. Quite the contrary. Whenever the subjects of the grocery store or the Civic Arena came up, conversation just kind of stopped. Issues were obviously unresolved.

    As an adult, I got to thinking there must have been some blame and recrimination as to whether Bernard Reichbaum ought to have taken the deal from the city he ultimately did, whether he did the right thing. Who knows. So many people have passed on.

    Anyway, I hope that answers your questions.

  2. very well written bram.

  3. Good answer, Bram. You probably should have added that you had interest in this story early on and even interviewed Khari Mosley earlier in this process.

    As for Mario this and Sydney that, I object. We believe in self-determination and we would not want our neighborhood to turn into Pens paraphernalia. So, they might get a plaque but the buildings and larger items would be named "Mario Van Peebles" this and "Sidney Poitier" that.


  4. Ah, Dr G. What I am hoping for is, the results of the Penguins far-sightedness will be so positive and so constructive, that one day you will look back on Mario Lemieux and think, "Sure, why not put up one of those bronze statues in the playground?"

    We have no objection to a Sidney Poitier theater. Mario Van Peebles? We'd rather see an obelisk for Nintendo's Super Mario.