Friday, February 13, 2009

Notes from URA Board Meeting: 2/12/09

Kuhn's in Hill District granted tentative approvals, very positive rhetoric; final actions on track for March/April

See also: P-G, Mark Belko; Trib, Jeremy Boren

2:02 PM:
Quorum of board members present. Board chair Yarone Zober calls meeting to order.

Agenda Item #1: Hill District Grocery Store / Kuhn's project.

URA 'designated pitcher' officer: We had granted Hill House CDC an "exclusive three-month period to negotiate" -- "Here today to provide a progress report" -- "Complex financing arrangement" including tax credits -- CDC has engaged Massarro Construction; has secured funding offers for $4.6 million -- URA is considering two "significant actions" today: the approval of $580,000, and "commitment" of $1 million called for in CBA.

Evan Frasier (pictured), Hilll House CDC: There was a "$2 million concern from December". There's been progress toward "filling that gap". $750,000 through Allegheny County, that is Dan Onorato. There's been money committed by State Rep. Jake Wheatley, or that at least has come "far enough in the process". There's been money offered by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, some other non-profits. Councilwoman Payne has been a "huge advocate". The mayor has provided "solid support behind the scenes".

Zober calls upon board members Payne and Jim Ferlo for comments. Payne defers to Ferlo. Ferlo asks 'designated pitcher' about status of lease arrangement. Pitcher: we have a "square footage lease rate we believe we have a lock on".

Ferlo asks for clarity on Wheatley funding. URA director Rob Stephany clarifies that the URA has received "no letter" from Wheatley.

Ferlo: We are contemplating "not a dispensation agreement", but "an intent to contractually commit". Stephany: approval will mean "the site is yours" if you "meet certain thresholds." Ferlo: Who'll be the owner? Frasier: For at least 7 years, the Hill House Development Corporation, so as it stands, "The community will own the site; we won't know that 'till you sign the lease."

Zober: "Ms. Payne? Comment?" Payne: "So this will be [run] like the Family Dollar?" Frasier: Yes. Payne: "Hats of to the community" that's been "struggling" for this; "pleased".

Zober: "Luckily, this seems like the right one." [One meaning grocery store, meaning Kuhn's] "What happens next?" Frasier: get a "lock on New Market Tax Credits" today. Ferlo, Stephany: Looking at signing that lease in March/April once design elements are finalized. "March/April" murmured around table in assent. Payne: "I would say May..."

Zober: "Am I gonna be shopping there in 2010?" Frasier: "That sounds good". Payne: "I'm guaranteeing them" operation by 2010 [appreciative laughter all around].

Ferlo: Building Trades Council has what is called the "Erect Fund". May have funding available. May come with certain strings attached in regards to labor relations. The CBA "speaks eloquently" about intentions regarding labor already. Kuhn's has collective bargaining in place already at its Rodi Road location.

Zober: Public comments? Speaker self-identified as Freedom Fighter for All: Supports the "team over there" (Frasier, etc.). "We want a health(y) store"; and are "praying it works out, thank you." [applause].

Zober: calls for vote; motions carried [more applause]. "Let's keep rockin' and rollin'."

Agenda Item #2: National Aviary, grant $1.625 million -- an increase of $500,000 over previous. Discussed concerns about employee who resigned in protest over accessibility issues. Aviary rep: A few specific changes have been made; Aviary is now "most accessible". Ferlo: "We're not gonna see picket lines, are we?" Aviary rep: "No." Payne: "Been there 3 times" now. Motion carries.

Next agenda item: Residential project near Children's Hospital (31st Street Lofts?) Using for the first time "UDAG Program Income Fund (UPIF)". Ferlo: "Very excited". Developer: "No other apartments in the city like it, I guarantee it." Building's pink coloration somewhat controversial: this situation may or may not be abated. Motion carries.

Departed meeting. Later on the agenda: several items regarding Beechview. Staff representing State Rep. Chelsa Wagner in attendance. Informed speculation: probably matters pertaining to Bernardo Katz.

Discussion Question: So much agonized talk about the unfortunate necessity of including some public subsidy in the grocery store project -- so much soul-searching, grudging acknowledgement, and slow coming around. Is it always this serious? Do not many projects benefit from far larger subsidies almost routinely? Do they all receive this appropriate degree of skeptical scrutiny prior to approval?

Recommendation: State Rep. Jake Wheatley's piece of the financing arrangement seems to be the most tenuous element at this point. We may as well send to him some positive reinforcement.

No comments:

Post a Comment