Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thursday: Making Progress

Haunted Destinations

by Bram Reichbaum

Feels like, what do you call it? Moving forward?

This week, four members of council -- President Darlene Harris, Councilman Daniel Lavelle, Councilman Bill Peduto and the bill's sponsor Councilman Ricky Burgess -- voted for the [Larimer] legislation. But two council members -- Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus -- abstained because of reservations about the bill. (Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith and Councilman Corey O'Connor were out of the room when the vote was taken.) (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

A high-impact, humanely wrought and timely proposal is now well-vetted and more fiscally prudent by one-quarter.

A real concern:

But Ms. Rudiak said she's still concerned about the source of the money and that the city will cut out other projects in the pipeline. About $2.9 million in capital funds over six years would be a part of the city's contribution to the project, and she worries about the impact of the allocation on the city's dwindling capital budget. (ibid)

Some perspective: the cap budget was for a time about $40 million annually. We borrowed recently and pumped that to around $80 million, but that boost should wear off soon. Remember not only do we build and renovate structures with that money each year, we also pave and maintain roads with it.

If and when this development starts generating revenue for the City, perhaps we might track it, and earmark the proceeds back into the capital budget? Just a thought.

District 7 presently lacks a Council representative as we discuss the possibility of bumping other projects in the pipeline. Public service message.


What is next?

The Lower Hill Redevelopment Project will be one of the largest redevelopment projects the City of Pittsburgh has ever seen. Specifically, the project aims to redevelop the 28-acres currently occupied by surface parking lots and the former Civic Arena site. The project will receive public subsidy and is subject to a public process and approval by local government.

As of Summer 2013, the Pittsburgh Penguins Corporation is moving through the public process for the project. For a project this large to move forward, the Penguins want to create a Specially Planned District to replace existing zoning with new zoning for future development.

That is according to the HSDC page entitled "Inclusionary Zoning".

Downtown is prepared and able to grow east now. The City and the Penguins have done what they need to do to assure that already. But if the Hill District also rises to meet Downtown and interlace with it meaningfully, each will be able to feed the others' vitality for decades to come. And Downtown could really, really use a strong Hill if it is to become a lively 24-hour community.

How do we encourage that? The Pens have held all the cards since they feinted a move to Kansas City, but city government will soon be able to recapture a degree of initiative through planning and zoning. Making that leverage count will take not only a lot of brokering and negotiation, but also a lot of patient conviction.

BONUS: PWSA and Alcosan are both gearing up to charge ratepayers their share in upgrading our region's outdated water systems. Remember the Triathlon.


  1. How many of those council members that voted in favor of this large robbing of the future capital fund to give to one district actually talked to their constituents?

    All of the districts have needs screaming for capital monies and yet we are taking away any flexibility in spending away to satisfy Councilman Burgess --- once again.

    You talk about the $40 million bond --- where did all of that money go to? Would like to see some public accounting of those funds prior to another boondoggle.

    Economic improvement is the same argument that we heard when they decided to be the observation stands in Mount Washington, putting in Three Rivers Stadium, blowing up Three Rivers Stadium and the subsequent building of two new sports facilities on the North Shore and you can add in our public investment in Consol. Look at the financial hole that all of that put our City into (can anyone say Act 47?).

    All of this is stuff that should be largely privately, not publicly, financed.

    But, we, like Washington, love to spend money we don't have.
    Public monies should be used to build new or repair existing City facilities and take care of our transportation infrastructure.

    1. "How many of those council members that voted in favor of this large robbing of the future capital fund to give to one district . . . ."

      This is a popular sort of framing, and yet utterly nonsensical. If you look at specific line items in the capital budget, most them are going to directly benefit only one district. And if each individual council member should oppose any capital project that isn't in their own district, then very little could be done.

      Of course each council member should take a special interest in possible capital projects within their district, and for proposed projects in other districts, they should be responsible for making sure those are wise investments. I'd even agree that each council member should be seeking to make sure their district gets a fair share of capital expenditures over the long run, with the caveat that fairness should not be treated as a simplistic notion.

      But the idea that it is "robbery" to have some portion of the capital budget go to a project in a particular district is quite crazy when you actually think about universalizing it.

      "All of this is stuff that should be largely privately, not publicly, financed."

      This project involves infrastructure, parks, commercial space, low-income housing, and market-rate housing.

      Some of those are categories in which a large, even dominant, public financing component is perfectly appropriate. Others are categories in which there should be little or no public financing component. Collectively you should expect a project like this to have a healthy mix of public and private financing--which in fact is the case.

      The one possible caveat to this analysis is that the HUD component really does seem quite large. That's because of some conscious policy decisions to reorient HUD financing from public housing along the "projects" model to these mixed-income, mixed-use, community-building models. In the abstract you might think that is going to dilute the impact of HUD's expenditures with respect to its core mission, but all this is in part the reaction to some hard-won lessons about what actually works in terms of providing housing that will best serve the needs of low-income households.

      And regardless of how one feels about HUD policy, we certainly can't set HUD policy at the local level, and we'll be paying federal taxes just the same. So if HUD is making grants like this available for proposals, we should definitely be looking for opportunities to make decent proposals.

  2. Credit where it is due--it sounds to me like Council is having a reasonable discussion focused on the right issues. As I was suggesting in the prior thread, Rudiak's questions are well-founded: if the City does this, it probably won't be able to do some other things. That doesn't make it a bad idea by any means, but you have to weigh those options and make a decision.

  3. Can someone summarize the economics of the deal? What is the return on investment? How many units of affordable housing are needed based on demographics of the neighborhood and city? Compare it to Somerset and other projects to give us a sense of the value. All these questions are in the applications to HUD, but the PG never can ciover the details to allow the average joe taxpayer to really understand the economic value.

  4. Pretty convenient that Smith and O'Connor were out of the room during that vote.

  5. I love how all the sudden the debate was "humanely wrought." Challenging and voting against a large expenditure that will actually help a lower income community has the sudden become a "legitimate debate." Wow, what could have possibly changed in City politics?