Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pittsburgh Penguins Throw the Gloves Off

During a Feb. 22 meeting with the New Pittsburgh Courier’s editorial board, Morehouse and senior consultant Ron Porter essentially said they are not the bad guys they’ve been made out to be, bent on bulldozing the Hill District—again—for their own enrichment.

“That’s the construct that’s out there,” said Morehouse. “Fifty years ago, the Penguins built the arena and kicked everyone out—the same as now. First of all, the Penguins didn’t exist 50 years ago. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

We're not blaming you. We're blaming ourselves.

We're blaming our own out-of-control Urban Redevelopment Authority -- which did in fact exist 50 years ago, and was directly implicated in the tragedies of arrogance at that time.

We blame the very same nexus of developers, contractors, consultants and a certain set of city planners and administrators -- who collectively have botched development after development after development in the City of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- we only desire to see you avoid the old mistakes. We want you to break the mold, break our old civic patterns, and be a huge success story.


"Secondly, no person or business has been forced out. We even bought out the synagogue. And the new arena is closer to the business area than to homes in the Hill.”

Yes, and that is precisely the tragedy. Downtown and the Hill District need to be virtually as one, if either are to realize their potential.

The perception of the deal as publicly financed, using “taxpayer dollars,” is also flawed and being used against the Penguins he said. “Half of that is coming from (Majestic Star Casino owner) Don Barden, because he wanted to help improve the Hill, and half is from gaming revenue,” said Morehouse. “So the only people being ‘taxed’ are the gamblers.”

We are the gamblers. The "gaming revenue" is revenue derived from taxation upon gaming. So it is taxpayer dollars, that would otherwise have gone towards other public functions.

As to Don Barden's contribution...

The $15 million received from those two sources annually for 30 years will pay the debt service on the bond to build the $290 million facility.

So it's only going "to help improve the Hill" in an indirect manner?

The Penguins also negotiated all the parking revenue from its lots, and they also will receive development tax credits for the 28 acres where the current Mellon Arena now stands. But for each year the land remains undeveloped after the new arena is complete, the credits are lost.

There again! The unavoidable 28 acres!

All that public land -- right smack up against Downtown -- was it really given to the Penguins carte blanche? Government officials surrendered absolutely all normal responsibilities for civic design and critical infrastructure, simply by handing over development rights upon that land?

Porter, however, said despite the teams efforts, the “arcane and thick” politics of the Hill community may remain difficult to work through.

“The mentality of entitlement is a tough one to crack.”

Provocative terminology from Penguins senior consultant Ron Porter -- who until recently chaired the Hill House Economic Development Corporation, and before that the Hill House Association (CORRECTED).


  1. OMG. I’m seeing not-a-signs everywhere. So, according to Morehouse, taxes from gambling are not-taxpayer-dollars because…

    1) Gaming taxes are not real taxes? Or...

    2) Gamblers are not worthy enough to be real taxpayers? Or....

    3) Both

  2. A couple of things here:

    1) If we want to stretch the definition to absurdity, all dollars are taxpayer dollars. That said...

    2) ...Money freely given by some (to, say, gambling) is not the same as money forcibly taken from all (for, say, taxation). And it never shall be.

    3) Saying "We are the gamblers" is just silly. "We" are the taxed. Only "some of us" are the gamblers. (And anyone who is becomes so by his own foolish choice.)

    4) Finally: you do neither your cause nor your argument any favors, Bram, when you write sentences like this: "Downtown and the Hill District need to be virtually as one, if either are to realize their potential." That's melodramatic claptrap. And, worse still, an insult to both communities.

  3. I'll only respond to point #2, Chad. The reasons we put that casino up are A) a great many of 'us' want to gamble, even if that can be considered a little foolish, and B) we wanted to generate tax revenue, specifically for property tax relief.

    I'm not saying it was a crime to divert that tax revenue to debt service on the arena, but let's please call it what it is.

  4. "That's melodramatic claptrap. And, worse still, an insult to both communities."

    Okay FINE, I'll bite.

    I have no compunctions insulting Downtown. It would benefit greatly from a steady flow of pedestrian and residential energy.

    Most Downtowns in America have 2 or 3 residential neighborhoods from which to draw activity; is it any wonder that ours has been increasingly stale and ghostly since we amputated its Hill District?

    As to "insulting" the Hill District -- I recognize you are trying to get me on the wrong side of the residents' pride, but I think we can all agree that the community is struggling.

    Due to some incredibly challenging topography, and again its forcible separation from the great powerhouse on its western border, the Hill has been living in near-total economic and cultural isolation. And it has lived in resentment of that forcible isolation.

    Is this the only problem the Hill has had? Certainly not. But it is a big one, and it compounds all the others problems. The Hill would benefit greatly from some measures taken to provide for shared prosperity, and again, mulching apart the walls of separation between it and Downtown would be very beneficial.

  5. Whatever, Dave. Whatever, Ron. Whatever, Pens. See you in the morning.

  6. So, there is the 28 acres of current Civic Arena. And somebody told the Pens management they could have that 28 acres? Since Don Barden "wanted to help improve the Hill" and is contributing a chunk of money to the new arena, why shouldn't he get the 28 acres?

    And the way a tax works, if the state decides it wants 20% of gambling revenue, then for the two quarters put in the one armed bandit, ten cents goes to the state. Or perhaps straight to the Pens. Sweet deal.

  7. Don Barden should NOT get the land in The Hill because he did not buy it. The land is NOT for sale.

    Perhaps the land should be for sale. The Pens should buy the land it needs -- and build what it wants -- with Penguin money.

    Again, the URA is in the way of the public interest. The URA needs to be liquidated.

  8. "they also will receive development tax credits for the 28 acres"

    Technically there is opportunity cost associated with giving tax credits. Opportunity cost that is realized by taxpayers who have to support programs with other tax revenue. So that is taxpayer money, even if it isn't money but credits.

    To Chad:

    "Money freely given by some (to, say, gambling) is not the same as money forcibly taken from all (for, say, taxation). And it never shall be."

    I agree it's not the same, but that could then be said also about things like sales taxes, use taxes, etc...are those all not actually taxes like income or property tax are taxes?