Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Amphitheater: It's A Go

The PromoWest Entertainment Complex AKA North Shore "Uglitheater" won unanimous approval from the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission yesterday evening as the 15th and final item on the Commission's agenda at its last meeting prior to August recess.

Six conditions were placed by the Commission on the approval:

1) A plan for a "multi-use plaza" that is "substantially consistent" with what is already included in the North Shore Master Plan for the site must be submitted by the developer within 3 years. Failure to do so will cause their Certificate of Occupancy to expire -- although at one time, failure to develop the land within 5 years would have caused the contract for the land sale and development rights to expire, yet this did not happen.

2) All comments by the city's Traffic Engineer and its Transportation Planner as reflected in a traffic study must be incorporated to the satisfaction of those officials.

3) Another traffic plan must be submitted by the developers to reflect the eventuality that ticketed musical events conflict with major sporting events. Notice should be given to the Office of Special Events two weeks in advance of such a thing occurring.

4) Operators of the facility "shall include a clause in all contracts with performers" that sound levels should not not exceed what is in city ordinances, and outdoor musical events shall not last past 11:00 PM. Efforts to come to an agreement on how sound will be monitored shall continue with The Community.

5) Procedures for cooperative and good-faith litter removal and clean-up efforts will continue to be discussed with The Community.

6) Construction drawings must be reviewed and approved by the city's Zoning Administrator prior to the issuance of a building permit -- which "gets to possible changes in the design and the materials that have been talked about".

No further details were provided on Condition 6, though environmental standards including LEED certification were significantly discussed at hearing phases of the process. Design issues were not as heavily discussed in public meetings, but have been mentioned critically on this blog and elsewhere. An artist's rendering of the amphitheater depicted a large, flat and artistically unremarkable square building with several bay windows facing the river -- drawn from the perspective of one corner, so as to provide the illusion of dramatic depth.

Zoning Administrator Susan Tymozcko, who apparently will get to decide on all these changes to the building, became a noteworthy figure in 2008 as the administrator who approved a massive digital advertising billboard on the Grant Street Transportation Center as a "minor alteration".

Mark Fatla, head of the North Side Leadership Conference (NSLC), was present at the meeting to represent for The Community, with particular regard to noise and cleanup issues. He told The Comet that the Planning Commission had contacted him about a month ago to inform him it was "not comfortable moving forward with the developers" unless the NSLC engaged with them on certain issues and provided feedback.

Two years ago there was significant friction between the NSLC and Northside United around the issue of a community benefits settlement that was reached between then-casino owner Don Barden and the NSLC which did not address NU's persuasion of civic concerns. That conflict has been dormant for a long time, if not fully expired.

Fatla repeatedly underlined that the NSLC is not "in favor of" or "opposed to" the development; he told the Comet that an NSLC member organization representing the neighborhood Allegheny West was at one time opposed to the amphitheater. He clarified to the Commission that "we're not here to negotiate" but later in the same sentence that "we're just trying to bring the two sides closer together."

Fatla spoke at length about noise issues -- he was particularly concerned how and where sound levels will be monitored, noting that sound changes after it leaves its origin and travels up toward residents, and will change further as North Shore development progresses. The developers did not seem yet to have agreed to place sound monitoring systems up towards the residential community. Fatla also mentioned that city penalties for violating noise ordinances stand at $300, which is not a significant deterrent compared with other cities.

The developers did agree to arrange three "loud concerts" towards the beginning of facility operation to run field tests with The Community on sound issues.

Litter issues were discussed, but it seemed like vanishingly little progress was made. Fatla concluded to the Commission that "he hopes we have discharged our responsibilities to you adequately" and would be happy to continue discussing matters with the developer if requested.

Kirk Burkley, a new member of the Commission whose appointment became somewhat controversial due to a lack of public interviews and a seeming lack of experience in planning and zoning issues, was extremely active not only during consideration of the amphitheater but during prior business. He was relatively speaking the most vocal and involved Planning Commission member I have ever seen. He seemed particularly confounded by the often vague phrasing of the various approval conditions detailed by Zoning Administrator Tymozcko, and by what were supposed to be the penalties or enforcement mechanisms if they went unsatisfied. He mainly advocated for stricter language in these requirements.

After a motion to approve was made and seconded, Commission chair Wrenna Watson asked, "Where is Northside United today, anyway?" making two fists and waving her arms so as to suggest, "Go go go, rascally rabble rousers!" The Comet spoke with NU representatives prior to yesterdays meeting, and was informed that with other activities consuming members' time this week and with little remaining confidence that the Commission intends to incorporate its input, it decided to take a pass.

Burkley offered a view in response to the Chair's allusion to NU. "They had a state representative support what they're asking for", referencing Chelsa Wagner. "If they want it legislated into rules that there needs to be discussions when there are state monies granted ... that's a legislative fix ... it's not for the developer, it's not for this body."

Chairwoman Watson offered in response a couple times, "Right", and called for a vote.

*- Fatla image borrowed from Young Preservationists Association.


  1. This 'sound issue' is something we know about. And, the approach being taken by the community is not the one that it should try to press.

    The sound needs to be measured, not up into the streets and into the neighborhoods. That's a bunch of bunk.

    Rather, the sound needs to be measured in the front row. That is where the enforcement needs to occur and where the sound needs to be kept at a healthy limit.

    We are going to be sending thousands of our children, among others, to events there. They should not be injured by the sound. Injured for life, as those tiny hair cells do NOT grow back.

    Then, the folks in the neighborhoods can rest easily as the sound within the venue -- won't be hurting thousands -- and it won't be floating into the neighborhoods.

    The damage isn't going to be done up the streets. The damage is under their roof.

    That experience is undenied and should be the approach by all. Call me if you are serious about what is the best approach for this sound / noise issue. 412 298 3432. We'll set up a meeting.

  2. I don't understand what Fatla is talking about in regards to NSLC being neutral...

    Seems to me they have been actively working against any kind of CBA Northside UNITED has proposed and Fatla himself has made it made a big stink at several meetings with the group and some of its members, even making personal attacks.

    Isn't a CBA something Fatla and NSLC should be supporting? Look to his connections with Luke. It is just as suspect as the Commission that pushed through the ampi with all those firings.

    And as far as NU not being there . . . that indeed concerns me. They stalled previous votes on it. Why not at least show up for this one even if they had spme events planned? Isn't this more important? Get your people there to show their dissatisfaction. It shows their lack of support in the community and mayne even their lack of knowledge that it was even going up for a vote in my opinion.

  3. Elaine - They definitely knew it was going on. And they realized that it was a continuance of a hearing for which public comment had already closed. They did mobilize near 200 to go to the first iteration of a hearing regarding the Master Plan. Their Take Back the North Side rally tomorrow is generating a lot of press advisories and junk, maybe they desired to maximize enthusiasm for that? Maybe they thought actually 'boycotting' the Commission as a farce would be a more appropriate statement at this point? I don't know, I hear what you're saying.

    Mr. Fatla seemed to me thoroughly unenthralled with these developers and even a bit annoyed at the spot the Commission had put him and his organization in, but I suppose that could have been a contrivance. He distributed a copy of the NSLC's position on the development which I haven't reviewed yet, and I'm hoping to catch up with him soon on life as a North Side daimyo in general.

  4. It is difficult to argue against a new venue for live music here in Steeltown.

    Non-subsidized housing for new taxpayers interested in a short commute to work would probably add more to our bottom line, but if the best we can do is a new music venue then so be it.

    Let's just hope the gatekeeper Susan T makes sure the venue doesn't look like a warehouse with a stage attached to it.

  5. It's hard to argue against a new venue for live music? Huh? There are two existing amphitheaters within 1/4 mile of this site and a third being planned and built with NO taxpayer subsidies by the casino, also within 1/4 of a mile. For a while the URA was all pumped about turning the Garden theater into some sort of live music venue. It is redundant four times over to build this here, promises no economic benefit to the city or the neighborhood and in fact IS designed to look like a warehouse with a stage attached to it. Not to mention the developer has indicated that it intends to go to the Stadium Authority and ask for a 3 year extension on completing the outside aesthetics of the project.

  6. to Mark - actually if you look at what the developer is doing as part of the conditions is exactly what you want. There is a sound monitor at the sound board that automatically turns it down when the sound goes beyond the limits.

  7. A couple of points:

    1. The need for an amphitheater is more complicated than how many venues, but also qualitative aspects (design matters!)...Pittsburgh is underserved by small to midsized venues (Graffiti etc). The Garden could be a small component, and that is being studied..(blues/brew/digital film pub for example). We are talking 400-600 people.

    2. Pittsburgh needs a larger venue like, Millenium Park, Red Rocks or Hollywood Bowl (these dont compete with arenas. These venues have spectacular settings (skylines, architecture and overall attention to detail. Of course that venue already exists if we converted the Civic Arena to a combination amphitheater (3-5,000), park, and hotel/restaurant destination. Take the demo money to reconfigure the interior and you would have a destination of national caliber like Millenium Park or Hollywood Bowl. It would complement the new arena's large indoor venue and could be enclosed in 3 minutes if it rains...It would not be a single use facility.. hence much more economic benefit in using what we already have. See Reuse the Igloo page on face book for illustration (scroll down to photos).