Friday, August 30, 2013

Lower Hill redevelopment Churns Forward

On Wednesday, the SPC hosted a public meeting to gather input on amending its transportation plans to reflect the Penguins' proposals in the Lower Hill, such that the SEA may qualify for a $21 million federal TIGER transportation grant.

In answer to our own question, an SEA representative said the function of Street 4 is to provide additional "frontage" for the development parcel. That cul-de-sac will increase the desirability and profitability of nearby development, but provide little transportation benefit.

Members of the Hill District Consensus Group and allies arrived to oppose the application for further "public subsidy for the Pittsburgh Penguins" above the $750 million previously awarded, without the following:

  • Adherence to the Greater Hill District Master Plan, particularly with respect to minimizing parking impacts and providing community transit options
  • Funding for the Curtain Call public art project
  • Community control of street and place naming
  • 30% of housing on site to be "affordable" for low-income residents
  • 20% of commercial space on site to be available for ownership by Hill District businesses
  • Community Improvement Fund funded by Dollar A Car

Separately, Marimba Milliones representing the Hill CDC asked the panel to condition its approval upon the Penguins' signing an enforceable "community collaboration and implementation plan" -- although the TIGER grant application itself includes a letter from the Hill CDC in unqualified support.

According to Milliones, such a community collaboration and implementation plan is still being negotiated between the Penguins and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, the Hill CDC and the "Lower Hill District Working Group". Drafts or previews of what is being sought after in this accord are not available.

Carl Redwood of the Hill District Consensus Group characterizes that negotiating team as Milliones, Lavelle, and former councilman Sala Udin alone. He says representation of his own group was invited to participate in that process, but would have been made to sign a confidentiality agreement and so declined. However he emphasized that his group's efforts support what the other is trying to do and vice-versa.

Randy Bish, Trib
Milliones' public commentary also recalled the "no bid" award to the Penguins of development rights all around the Civic Arena footprint, conjuring old questions about how do these deals "saving" sports franchises get exempted from so much that is fair, routine and ordinarily required in public business.

Although the team's Preliminary Land Development Plan and its Special Zoning proposal have yet to make it through the City Planning Commission and City Council -- meaning technically, nobody yet knows what will become of the land we are servicing with these new roads -- representatives of the SEA said that they cannot wait in applying for a TIGER transportation grant, as it only comes once a year and the Penguins are on the clock to begin developing parcels.

If the grant gets awarded, the consequences of "losing" that $21 million will probably weigh heavily on remaining City Planning decisions, and therefore the community will again lose its leverage with the Penguins in seeking its objectives.

Not one of the approximately twenty speakers at the meeting expressed straightforward support. Written comments are still being accepted until Sept. 11.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ravenstahl post-mortem: Mayoring Ain't Easy

This Buzzfeedish wrap-up is a good look at the Luke Era, with lots of instances of Undermayor Zober faithfully and skillfully applying the lipstick, rouge, mascara, concealer and botox.

I'd like to juxtapose two bits:

“He is an amazing risk-taker, and in politics, that’s pretty hard to come by,” says Zober. Exhibit A: The public announcement of The Pittsburgh Promise at a time when no funding was available for it. “When Superintendent Roosevelt and Mayor Ravenstahl stood up and announced it together as this great dream, The Pittsburgh Promise, many mocked it … [Ravenstahl and Roosevelt] knew that in order to make that happen, you had to discuss it publicly.” (PghMag; Rich Lord)


Ravenstahl, notes Zober, “became mayor and the following year had to run for office. There were people in council who wanted that office.” (ibid)

The two are related. Ravenstahl announced the Promise as a solid reality with much fanfare before it was ready, in order to give voters something with which to identify and for which to adore our new Mayor prior to a special election.

That decision led to desperation in identifying funding, which led to UPMC dominating the Promise by entering into certain understandings with the City, which led to both political animosity over proposed tax-credits and the spoiling of negotiations with non-profits over PILOTs to this day.

A Lesson 9 could simply read, "Do Not Mix Politics and Governing," but I suppose Rich does not want to sound like he just fell off the turnip truck.

Related to this:

“You can’t just run over the hill to the store and get a carton of milk,” the new mayor, then 26, told me. “I’m a lot more recognizable, and that’s probably what’s been the hardest.” (ibid)


“He had to ask himself many times, ‘Is this something I’m willing to do?’” says Zober. “This was not a position he had anticipated taking on, particularly not in such an early stage [of] his political career, and [of] his life.” (ibid)

We continue to read this sort of thing. He never sought the office, we are told, and was deeply uncomfortable with the recognition it brought.

He merely ran for City Council at age 23, accepted being put forward as its President, plastered his face on everything he could find as Mayor, energetically sought reelection at every opportunity, and was notorious about chasing celebrities, patronizing VIP lounges and starring in movies.

I suppose he can be complex and contain multitudes. So Lesson 10: Do not be ambivalent. If you want run a major city, your heart and soul had better be 100% energized by the job itself, like some sort of public affairs geek: negotiating with community groups and stakeholders, overseeing departments and demanding the most out of them, doing research and reevaluating your preconceptions. Because the perks alone and the pride of seeing monuments rise during your tenure don't remotely justify the hassle.