Firstly: run don't walk to this week's City Paper. I'll excerpt a few bits but it's better to read the whole articles. First there is a fretful general update on the impact of the loss of Evan Frazier at this "critical juncture", but then there is an offset item on a new disquieting front:
The Pittsburgh Penguins apparently skipped an important step last month in constructing a hotel near their new hockey arena. And by doing so, they may have violated the terms of their pledge to the Hill District, the community-benefits agreement (CBA). (CP, Chris Young)
Amongst the grocery store, the community-driven master plan, and the First Source job center, one would have thought the execution of the job center was the easy layup.
Carl Redwood, who played a significant role in getting the CBA signed as chairman of the community coalition One Hill, admits that the Penguins "technically" violated the CBA. But he counsels restraint about the hotel project. "We're not going to get all upset," he says. "We anticipate that all future [job] openings will be shared with the First Source Center." (ibid)
I guess someone has to be smoothly conciliatory what with Mr. Frazier taking a backseat, but the above reminds me very much of all professional and trusting reassurance that we heard during the period before the unplanned burning of that first CBA proposal and the unrelated combustion the URA -- you know, the period where nothing at all got accomplished for months and months on end. When I think about those contractors' and developers' self-righteous demands that the community deserves nothing and shovels need to start digging into the earth, I feel that forgetting the Job Center was not just an oversight.
And then there's the community-driven Master Planning process -- which was glossed upon just barely in recent news articles about the fate of the Mellon Arena.
SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo said after Mr. Pfaffmann spoke at the board meeting that there would be a public process on the proposed demolition.
The SEA board yesterday hired Oxford/Chester LLC at a cost not to exceed $277,180 to help in the master planning for the 28 acres, to conduct a hazardous materials investigation at the site, and to help coordinate the possible sale of arena assets. (P-G, Mark Belko; see also Trib, Jeremy Boren)
All things being equal, one would think it would be better to preserve and adapt a notable asset rather than destroy it -- provided the structure and the area can be genuinely productive. Hopefully ingenious minds are on this and very well along.
Reusing Mellon Arena, Mr. Morehouse said, "probably" would prevent the team from restoring the street grid between Downtown and the Hill, one removed when the Igloo was built and now viewed as a mistake. (ibid)
Is this an actual indication that the Penguins intend to use their influence on the planning process to restore the street grid? In my view that would be really positive.
But the point of all this is that the Penguins, according to that pesky, celebrated CBA, ought to be merely a co-chair of the planning process. There was a Neighborhood Steering Committee convened made up of appointments by genuine public officials and everything. Yet we know that track is in jeopardy, despite nonspecific and patronizing talk of the community being allowed to "have input".
Also today, the URA board unanimously approved a $350,000 contract with CHPlanning Ltd. of Philadelphia to help in the development of a master plan for the Hill District. The hiring was delayed last month by Ms. Payne, a URA board member who wanted more time to review the qualifications of the firm and two other finalists for the work. Based on that review, she said she was comfortable with CHPLanning's hiring.
"I think [the firm] will do a wonderful job," she said.
The master plan is expected to look at the entire Hill neighborhood as well as 28 acres of land to be developed by the Penguins along Centre Avenue where Mellon Arena now sits. (P-G, Mark Belko)
This is the thing which according to some should have happened a month ago, and according to many more could and should have happened maybe six months to a year ago. This last month's delay was to get Tonya Payne up to speed. The previous months? Unknown.
As it is, there's a "drop dead" date in February on which the Penguins inherit sole sovereignty over the planning process -- a date which Councilman-elect Daniel Lavelle already said publicly will probably need to be pushed back. How it can be pushed back is another story.
So with the Job Center and Master Plan aspects of the tripod in considerable distress, finally there is the Grocery Store:
City Councilwoman Tonya Payne, who represents the Hill, said today she, the Ravenstahl administration, and officials with the city Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Hill House Association are expected to meet with Save-A-Lot representatives shortly after Thanksgiving. (ibid)
This would seem to not be perfectly in line with this recent sentiment:
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl called [Kuhns'] decision "discouraging," and stressed that the city was looking for a full-service grocery store at the site. (P-G, Vivian Nereim)
I interpret this as a sudden gust of coolness and accountability by an elected leader who understands the depth and importance of promises made to a used and abused neighborhood -- followed quickly by a veto by nervous bureaucrats.
I know, I know: ooga booga market fundamentals, booga wooga prevailing wage legislation. But you try raising a family without a pharmacy or a decent selection of healthy food within easy reach. Save-a-Lots are depressing and I hope the other options are still being actively pursued.
[Ravenstahl] was optimistic about a grocery store, noting that Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle made his billions of dollars largely in the supermarket industry. Mr. Burkle "has connections and the experience" to get a deal done, the mayor said. (P-G, 12/15/07, Mark Belko)
Another spontaneous gust of coolness that went unheralded at the time. How about a return to that idea?
There has been, and occasionally still is, a lot of talk about "this time, we're building an arena and a neighborhood". There is still enough time to accomplish that challenging, unique civic task, if there is only the requisite desire and political will in the right quarters. We don't need a new neighborhood called "Hillside" and a big wall with profoundly disappointed Pittsburghers on the other side.