Thursday, July 29, 2010

Let's Just Do the Tuition Tax 14 Times!

Opposition to leasing out our precious parking spaces -- which would raise over $200 million to pay for what the City has put off many times over -- is coalescing around a familiar theme:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Penguins' Redevelopment Concept to be Scrutinized, Discovered

Haven't seen a good must-read news article in a while, but this Adam Brandolph joint qualifies with credits to spare.

The report by 4Ward Planning says the Penguins' plan to add 600,000 square feet of office space around the new arena likely would pull tenants from Downtown office buildings, create vacancies and ultimately drive down rents throughout the city.

It predicts the 209,000 square feet of proposed retail space -- including eight restaurants roughly the size of SouthSide Works' Cheesecake Factory -- would take away business from existing merchants, and the 16-screen movie theater would saturate the area. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

First of all, there must be some miscommunication, right? That has to be eight commercial lots the size of the Cheesecake Factory, some of which will be used for restaurants, correct? Because who's going to eat at these, are we also installing a new Army barracks?

Either way, the general idea of the report commissioned by the preservationists -- aside from critiquing previous studies commissioned by the Pens and the SEA -- is that this new sprawling complex could theoretically napalm everything between Stanwix and Wood, and then everything to either side of Piatt Place until we hit Smithfield. Which might be the plan, who knows.

And then there's this:

"We believe in the potential for economic development here," McMillan said. "We've always thought the best use for the 28 acres is to bring down the obsolete arena, restore the historic street grid between the Lower Hill and Downtown, and create a tremendous development opportunity for the city and the region." (ibid)

The historic street grid featured twice as many streets -- hence these eight much larger proposed new blocks -- and the historic streets would plow through straight the U.S. Steel Building and One Bigelow Square. But let's say the vectors of these connections to Downtown can be reconnoitered.

There's been some official talk about "ultimately making the Crosstown Expressway a tunnel". If the restoration of blah blah blah Downtown is part and parcel to the logic of demolition, we should start examining the nuts and bolts of that ambitious undertaking. How much would it cost? What would it look like physically? What is the time line? Who would pay for it -- the Penguins, the government, maybe a yet-to-be-conceived-of P3?

If this is the plan -- and in pure theory, it would be pretty bonkers fantastic -- then let's really treat it as part of the plan. As it stands, all of the official drawings get kind of vague at just that point before petering out near the border of the page.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday: It's the Politics, Stupid.

Here it is, late summer, and there are so many weighty issues being addressed right now!

Drilling regs, policing plans and oversight, the capital budget, Hill planning and a courageous and possibly unholy concession to actual real communism, electronic billboards, storm water management -- there's even public transit, though that seems comically out of our hands. If we include genuinely contested gubernatorial and U.S. senatorial races, it's enough to keep anyone overloaded and distracted.

Yet one thing persistently excites our imaginations beyond all else: THE PENSIONS CRISIS AND THE PARKING LEASE.

And one thing, it suddenly springs to mind, lurks squarely in that thing's shadow: Council members Burgess, Dowd, Harris, Kraus and Shields are up for reelection in May of 2011 -- that is, right around the corner from the fallout of this vote. And I guess Lamb also.

(Tangent: potential serious challengers would have to be getting their ducks in a row right about now. Know any?)

What does this mean in terms of the parking issue? It means that if there is an argument to be made that Pittsburgh ought to allow its public pensions to be taken over by the state, you won't hear it out of Burgess, Dowd, Harris, Kraus or Shields, or possibly even from Lamb.

I think that means you can scratch it off the list entirely.

That leaves two real options: either do the deed, or borrow the $200 million plus at interest over 20 years, and raise the parking rates (or like, taxes) considerably anyway.

The Reelectables probably aren't salivating to defend a vote to lease away parking spaces and appear responsible for rate hikes -- but are they any more more excited about defending a vote that still results in a rate hike of some kind, and in new debt, and therefore a decreased ability to raise money for capital needs and withering infrastructure?

And so, the Comet has the deal's odds at 80%...

... and odds for those individuals of reelection dependent upon A) whether they voted to support it and fail to make it appear as a sufficiently inevitable and responsible "tough choice" or B) whether they voted against it and cannot fend off attacks fueled by wounded-feeling city workers, some discouraged corporate-types, and a wrathful Mayor.