Friday, April 20, 2012

CBA Grocery Store Mired in Complexities

The HDCG seems to want to reassure:

But when we click on the link, we get a story:

Hall-Russell said the HHEDC is reviewing everything in conjunction with funders and store operator Jeff Ross and all remain committed to the project. She did not, however, reveal the amount of the funding shortfall or give an estimate on when construction could resume.


Even so, it is possible the shortfall is substantial. As the Courier reported in September, then construction manager Jason Matthews replaced Brinker Group LLC as the contractor after Brinker declined to reduce its $5.6 million construction bid by nearly $1 million.

Matthews, who Hall-Russell said was employed on a month-to-month contract, left when CM Solutions was announced as the new program manager last month. She said his departure was not related to his wife’s earlier departure, nor to the recent wrongful termination lawsuit she filed.

Jules Matthews filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming she had uncovered a misuse of funds, and was fired after bringing it to her superiors’ attention.“Our only statement on the Jules Matthews case is that we are confident that the charges will prove to be false and that we had a third party review the grants and accounting systems before her suit and it was clean,” said Hall-Russell. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

Read about the lawsuit news here, here, and here.

Unless and until the whistle blower case goes to trial, it will be hard to determine the truths of those matters. Matthews could easy have been fired for fighting corruption, or she could have been one of those people who plead "I'm a whistle blower!" when an institution turns its tables on them for any reason. And in either case, it all might have been instigated via shadowy third-party intrigue.

But because of this wrongful termination lawsuit, there's a lot more dirty laundry visible here than you would ever learn about a lot of community groups and agencies.

Perhaps there is here revealed a danger, in these public-private-foundation projects, of stakeholders eschewing leadership responsibility -- to provide leadership when nobody who feels ownership responsibility is in a leadership position.

When Redwood says,

“Look at the Consol Energy Center that went $30 million over budget and it’s all taxpayer money, so put it in perspective,” he said. “There is the $3 million development fund for the Hill District funded by the Rivers Casino, and they have an application before them. It’s frustrating but it will get done, and the Consensus Group will do whatever it can to help get it done.” (ibid)

You hope the commitment is still fierce. Things do go over budget, and encounter delays and even drama. Real business somehow always gets done.

URA Updates -- Soccer Stadium & More

I had forgotten yesterday was the 3rd Thursday of a month which contains a Friday the 13th during a leap year.

In no particular order:

Also on Thursday, the board voted to acquire for "nominal consideration" the streets surrounding the $119 million Bakery Square 2.0 mixed use development proposed by developer Walnut Capital Partners at the former Reizenstein School on the Shadyside-Larimer border.

The transaction is part of the planning for the public infrastructure around the development. The URA hopes to secure a $1.96 million federal grant to help with that effort. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Grants for some phases of certain developments seem to go as high as $2 million then. We assume directly acquiring streets from such entities is a regular occurrence and efficient. We assume the School District and its students have escaped the tumult relatively unscathed.

URA board members also approved a $300,000 grant to help fund a program designed to assist Pittsburgh neighborhoods in putting together their own plans for economic development and other initiatives.

Under the program, neighborhoods would be eligible for grants of $10,000 to $50,000 to help pay for design and planning services. The URA is working with the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh to establish the program. (ibid)

Nice. Hope that's serious enough money as these things go.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority board helped to clear the way Thursday for the construction of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds' new $10.2 million stadium at Station Square.

Board members unanimously approved a $500,000 loan to the soccer team to complete the last piece of financing needed for the 3,500-seat stadium on the riverbank between the Sheraton Station Square hotel and the Fort Pitt Bridge.

The Riverhounds hope to break ground on the project within the next few weeks and have it completed in the fall, said David Wilke, one of the team owners. (ibid)

I didn't know we were erecting a soccer stadium! What's it going to look like?

"This is really a community asset," URA board chairman Yarone Zober said. (ibid)

Assuming it's used for youth and college sports and music and other cultural events, it sure is. All assets are unique and its "communities" are heterogeneous -- this project sounds like it will be of a generalized benefit to the immediate region. Station Square is an isolated pleasure-colony and not much of a local community in terms of residential quality of life, and spectacle admissions lean toward broad, regional consumer benefits. To that extent it's not so much a neighborhood-oriented project as it is a core lumbar commercial one.

I don't know what you call Bakery Square. Station Square East? A cervical spine commercial project? Disc surgery? Growing wings? Call it happening.

Finally, it's not URA business but we can add this to the round-up:

Pittsburgh visitors soon will be able to feed parking meters with plastic as the city moves to high-tech, solar-powered machines that accept coins or credit cards. (Trib, Bob Bauder; see also P-G)

Just wait until somebody gets a dubious parking ticket while having their assessment appeal rejected. People will be lighting themselves on fire.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Revolution Will Not Be Organized.

Spring sure has sprung, huh? That generally means one thing. Winter is coming.

Real quick, before all that...

Leadership changes, cost estimate errors and a funding shortfall are the latest obstacles delaying construction of a long-awaited grocery store in the Hill District, officials said on Wednesday. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

Wonder what the unofficials say! ;-)

Hill House received financial pledges from government agencies and private donors, including $3.2 million from the state, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority; $1 million from the Pittsburgh Penguins; $1 million from Philadelphia-based The Reinvestment Fund; and $525,000 from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, officials said.

The URA donated property worth $500,000. Dollar Bank is lending $1.5 million.

The project involves a supermarket to be operated by Jeff Ross, who owns four Shop 'n Save stores, and additional retail space. Ross, who did not return phone calls, is contributing $1 million and will lease the property. (ibid)

It's a shame Mr. Ross didn't return phone calls. Maybe he can do us a favor and clear his throat? Grunt? Sigh? Shrug? C'mon, be a pal. Everyone on American Idol gets a tiny interview.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he directed the URA to help get the project back on track. Robert Rubinstein, the URA's acting director, said the agency is involved but referred questions to Hill House. (ibid)

Yeah, but the acting schmacting isn't usually the URA. The mayor said he directed the URA. That means business, folks ... that means ... well here is the URA board page. We should consider this problem solved.

Of course I'll bet cleaning up past mistakes is never easy. It's gotta be half of what urban redevelopment is anymore... still this objective begs for getting done.

And these are the days of our lives. Spring has sprung! Read this.

But are and its allies more like the Egyptian military, or the unions? I’d wager that they can be co-opted. They are already starting to be. From what I gather, there are those in their leadership who want this to happen. (Indypendant, Nathan Schneider)

Now you're a hep cat if you weren't one before.

Today's offering from One of America's Finest comes off a little like death:

The [EQT Corp. shareholders] meeting was temporarily adjourned after demonstrators began shouting over Mr. Porges, who repeatedly asked that any questions raised pertain to the four items up for vote. Some speakers brought up concerns over drilling contaminating groundwater supplies, some questioned the ethics of the board, one asked Mr. Porges how he sleeps at night.

Another wanted to know if the board supported the so-called Buffett Rule, a recently defeated piece of federal legislation trying to raise tax rates on top earners. (P-G, Eric Schwartzel)

Groundwater contamination. No help from the Trib today. P-G, yeah, it's all air pollutants. Any help from Fractracker?

In fact, two thirds of the liquid waste produced is still being treated at brine and industrial waste facilities, which have a questionable ability to remove total dissolved solids, heavy metals, and other contaminants from waste water, which ultimately works its way back into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams. (Fracktracker, Matt Kelso)

Um. Ethics?

What surprised me by the end of the presentations was the intuitive discussion among residents and attendees of their experiences with the industry and landsmen. (Landsmen are the personnel hired by the gas drilling companies to persuade mineral rights owners to lease their property for natural gas extraction purposes. Historically, there have been many complaints raised about the transparency of the process and the unscrupulous nature of these contracted employees.) (Fracktracker, Samantha Malone)

Um, kinda, y'know. [sweats profusely, adjusts collar].

Needs material. Are there any cohorts of corporate shareholders out there more likely to lobby for hiking tax rates in the higher tax brackets than Equitable Gas? Surely, a corporation facing uncertainty might find profit in the position as an organizing statement of character. I'm thinking a tech company.

Tech companies are funny:

Cottrell founded Anonymizer Inc. in 1995 to make Mixmaster and other programs accessible to people who aren't tech savvy. Customers include law enforcement agents setting up drug stings. The government-funded broadcast service Voice of America hired Anonymizer in 2003 for a multiyear project that helped "hundreds of thousands of people" in China and Iran to circumvent censors, he said. (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)



Penguins win big. It's a nastier series than politics.

RIP Levon Helm, RIP the Band (The Making of "Up on Cripple Creek")

The Post-Gazette endorses liberal Republican Bob Cratsley for the special election, who is a "client liaison" for the Comet's past kind innkeepers, Bank of New York Mellon. It also endorses Erin Molchany as the Democratic nominee for the upcoming 2013-14 term. The sheets of printed paper have reserved judgment on the November general election but are probably looking forward to it.

This list may grow today who knows.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday: Tony Coghill

The Pens AKA Pittsburgh Penguins are accused of becoming "unglued" in their series against the Flyers, while many sports fans debate the impact of selling beer at Kennywood Park.

Legendary drummer Levon Helm battles cancer, while Ted Nugent's remarks regarding President Obama draw Secret Service scrutiny.

Allegheny County Democratic Committee warlord and past City Council candidate Tony Coghill endorses Erin Molchany for State House D-22 over Marty Schmotzer. (City Paper Slag Heap, Chris Potter)

City Councilor and fellow mod-squad member Natalia Rudiak urges that the state establish a funding source for mass transit tapping "corporations and wealthy individuals" (P-G, Natalia Rudiak) as a committee prepares to slash transit services by more than a third (Trib, Tom Fontaine).

Anticipation for how great things are soon going to be on the West End reaches a fever pitch as the new West End Alliance receives more support from the city and URA. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

The scene outside an EQT Corp. shareholders meeting gets markedly choppy as protesters, shareholders and protesting shareholders force questions about executive compensation and federal tax policy, with security and police pushing back. (P-G, Erich Schwartzel)

Sen. Pat Toomey calls the proposed "Buffet Rule" a gimmick, a stunt, and a waste of time that will generate "less than $5 billion per year" towards the budget deficit. (PoliticsPA)

Seamus Johnston and Katherine Anne McCloskey seek to shame authorities who subpoenaed them in connection with the Pitt bomb threats:

"When my friends are exonerated from being persons of interest, it will show transgender folks everywhere that they do not necessarily have to fear bias in the justice system," said Roy Johnston, who is Seamus' father. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Tony Coghill Justin Bieber The Bachelor

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

March, Rally on UPMC highlights "Tax Dodging"

Around 130 protesters from labor, social activist and community organizations rallied in front of the US Steel Tower yesterday to protest UPMC's ability as a legal non-profit to shield its 9-figure annual profits from state, municipal and school district taxation.

The protest was organized by Pittsburgh United, a local political coalition affiliated with the national Partnership for Working Families.

"Hey Romoff! Get off it! You're not a non-profit!" the crowd chanted, waving signs decrying cuts to public education, transportation and infrastructure investment. Protesters, many clad in various union t-shirts, emphasized the health care giant's $471.7 million annual profit last year and what it calculated to be CEO Jeffery Romoff's $1,900 hourly wage.

"The problem isn't workers making too much money," said Barney Oursler, executive director of the protest organization, speaking both of UPMC and of budget woes in government. "[UPMC] admitted they're a for-profit" and therefore ought to be contributing to "the community".

The event proceeded from the Wood Street subway station peacefully up Strawberry Way, a service ally terminating directly in front of the US Steel Tower now emblazoned with UPMC's logo. A handful of bicycle police and police cruisers were on hand, stopping traffic briefly on Grant Street so protesters could cross. On the steps at Steel Plaza the rally lasted about an hour, allowing workers access to and from that building.

The scene was redolent of innumerable prior protests organized by the labor-led coalition: colorful hand-drawn signs and balloons, turns taken on a bullhorn leading chants and giving short speeches, a small press conference, an attempt to enter a targeted building to transact business on some pretense (this time an attempt submit a $204 million "tax bill" to UPMC was rebuffed) and a promise to return.

"Repetition is good," emphasized Rev. David Thornton of of Grace Memorial Baptist Church and Pittsburgh Interfaith Action Network, who seemed frequently to address unspoken anxieties related to fatigue or frustration. "It's good to repeat truth to power." Later he led the final chant, "UPMC, we'll be right back!"

Most Downtown onlookers seemed bemused by the proceedings.

"I think people have a real misunderstanding of what a not-for-profit is," said Mike Fiffik, a Downtown attorney. "Whether or not they are meeting that criterion is up for the IRS to determine." He allowed that not having to pay real estate, income and investment taxes is "a big help to them," a fact which is bound to result in more significant give-backs to the community in order to keep it so.

One UPMC employee speaking on condition of anonymity emphasized not just the number of jobs provided in health care, but the medical and technological research taking place in various programs as reasons to continue supporting it through the tax code.

"I'm a liberal," the employee contended. "But I think it's a lot healthier for the region than gas drilling."

The protest kicked off a week and perhaps a season of heightened activism by groups such as Pittsburgh United. Some irreverent "Tax Dodge(r) Ball" takes place today in Market Square and in Oakland, while events organized by the so-called 99% Spring, a "nonviolent civil disobedience" campaign taking inspiration from Occupy Wall Street, are scheduled through the coming months.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday: On Where Power Resides

This afternoon will feature a march from Wood St. to what the kids are calling the UPMC Tower; pitchforks will be most welcome. (PBT, Kris B. Mamula)

The Pittsburgh City Paper ran a guide for locals to next week's primary elections; what it lacks in having discerned any pizazz it makes up for in having been published. (CP, Team Effort)

Councilman Corey O'Connor is calling in his banners. Will they rally to his standard? (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Governor Tom Corbett also launches a volunteerism program which sounds potentially extremely cool. (Trib, Tony LaRussa)

State Auditor General Jack Wagner joins the chorus of those who would prefer raising taxes on gas at the pump to waiting until a bridge collapses. (PN, Charles Thomspon, h/t Triadvocate)

An Internet host which just has to be named "May First" is declining to cooperate with the FBI in certain inquiries relating to the Pitt bomb threats, citing "the survival of the human race." (P-G, Jon Schmitz)

An Allderdice mom writes a letter to the editor, regarding that school's new 7:11 am start time.

My daughter's first thought was that many Allderdice students already miss first-period classes because of difficulty getting to school on time for whatever reason; starting nearly an hour earlier will mean many, many more late kids.

Her second comment was telling: "Mom, but do you think the people behind the Pittsburgh Promise want this to happen?" So many kids are going to be late, she said, that they may not be able to fulfill the requirements. She added, "Maybe the people putting up the money want that to happen so they don't have to pay out." (P-G, Dianne Shenk)

How absolutely delightful, that my alma mader is still producing such rebellious cynicism! I am genuinely tempted to invite this young Dragon to write for the Comet. Meanwhile, another letter writer cites evidence from the National Sleep Foundation. Had I been required to be in homeroom at 7:11 am, I would have spent 1st and 2nd period at Bagel Nosh thrice as often as I did, and probably would not have graduated.