Lower Hill redevelopment: The TIGER and the Elephant

Carol Liddiment

Meanwhile, at the heart of all things…

The Sports & Exhibition Authority is rethinking its schedule to develop the site of the former Civic Arena now that it has applied for a federal grant that could be worth $18 million.
The authority had expected to begin work in July at the 28-acre site in the lower Hill District. That changed when officials decided in late spring to pursue the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant and delayed construction plans until 2014, Executive Director Mary Conturo said on Thursday. (Trib, Aaron Aupperlee)
Federal money in municipal hands dedicated for the Lower Hill, and serving to underscore the public’s skin in the game, is good.
“Now, with the TIGER, what we’re going to do is design the whole thing,” Conturo said. (ibid)
Comprehensiveness in civic design is good, all things being equal.
The authority is using other funding — grants and revenue from taxes — to pay for the initial designs by engineering firm Michael Baker Corp. of Moon. (ibid)
Ah. Just so.
But the large and multifaceted plan has yet to be given a formal airing…
[T]he first part requiring approval is a Preliminary Land Development Plan, which include details for infrastructure, development patterns, landscape design, and architectural details and is accompanied by updated zoning text.
Hill District city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle told the New Pittsburgh Courier that plan would be submitted to the Department of City Planning within two weeks.
“I’ve been having weekly meetings with the Pittsburgh Penguins about this for some time,” said Lavelle. “We have a couple more to go then we’ll submit the plan. So, after that, if the process goes smoothly, we could begin site work in six weeks.” (NPC, Christian Morrow) [Emph. ours]
Optimism. Planning Commissioners themselves are renown for their ability to uncover livability weaknesses in need of fixes here and there. Additionally, many stakeholders will be viewing this draft for the first time, while still others who have been following along closely will only now be arriving at solid stances on it.

The SEA and Michael Baker Corp. are either game for any design parameters the City ultimately throws at them, or else are confident these applications will motor through City panels at top speed with Lavelle at the joystick.

Furthermore, as both Lavelle and Hill Community Development Corp. Director Marimba Milliones reminded the audience, that initial site work offers opportunities for people to bid on contracts ranging from construction management to the guy who sells hot dogs on site.
“At every phase in these projects from before, during and after, we’re looking to maximize participation,” she said. “All of this is in keeping with the Hill Master Plan to connect the human side with the development side. We have a total of eight different designs stretching from the Upper Hill to the Lower Hill.” (ibid)
One must now wonder: is anybody ordinarily prohibited out-of-hand from bidding on contracts?

The Comet has heard or read THREE GENERAL CONCERNS expressed by the Penguins’ neighbors about the Penguins’ plans as presented informally at community meetings…

Charles M. Schultz

1) Any further special concessions or considerations “for the community” by the Penguins themselves in tandem with this laboriously enabled, exclusively bequeathed and lavishly subsidized development complex will be the topic of what the Pens were in April prospectively calling a “Collaboration and Implementation Plan”. This plan will not be produced until after all public hearings and meetings at which crucial factors (like zoning) are determined for good and all. This is in keeping with proud, long-established civic policies guiding Hill redevelopment such as “Now is not the time for that,” and “But that’s all irrelevant.” On the horizon is an interesting discussion about a proposed $1 per car district, but there is no substitute for optimal, careful and far-sighted city planning.

2) The Greater Hill District Master Plan was developed in a committee-shepherded participatory process in consultation with local government and several professionals hired by it, and enjoys passingly high regard in the community as far as it goes. But it is itself a long-term visioning guide, a thought exercise without official standing. Prior documented “understandings” between these parties have yielded mixed results: a very nice YMCA facility has appeared, and a Shop n’ Save is finally manifesting. But a “First Source” resource center would not materialize in time to steer jobs and contracts for construction of the new hockey arena, and a community heritage pedestrian walkway or “garden wall” was forgotten. Today, some few features of this ambitious Greater Hill District Master Plan are just starting to creep forward — funded by taxpayers, nonprofits and foundations mostly. But the Master Plan’s designs for the connective high-value nexus known as the “Lower Hill,” now being expedited, may face disproportionate antipathy from the neighborhood development leviathan. Hillombo reminds us frequently of affordable housing benchmarks as one example.

Google Maps

3) There are a passel of walkability and traffic concerns, e.g., the capacity of certain street corners (especially towards Bedford Ave., Washington Place and the Crosstown Expressway overpasses), the number and location of stop signs and traffic lights, and strategies to address steep gradients.

This issue should heat up again presently, maybe hotter than ever. The land is as fertile for investment as land gets, but we would do ourselves a favor by planting an appropriate mix of crops. If we argue, listen and interact skillfully enough, we can build a foundation for mutual assured prosperity at the city’s center, right where it belongs.

3 thoughts on “Lower Hill redevelopment: The TIGER and the Elephant

  1. Anonymous

    All interesting, but more interesting is that Chairman bill refused to go on a lobbying trip to Washington because he objects to the project. Our new mayor put is own interests and petty grudge ahead of the massive investment in the City.

  2. Bram Reichbaum

    If true, that is interesting news.

    But it's hard to imagine he' is against redeveloping the Lower Hill in any way. Has he expressed any specific reservations? Why can it only be a “petty grudge”? After all, Peduto came around to working with Burgess on Larimer, though Burgess has been known to spend whole fortnights beating Peduto over the head with a nerf bat.

  3. Anonymous

    I think a lot of people are watching closely to see where city redevelopment will be headed under a new administration. The URA was very active under Luke, and for my part I'd say that they were really doing some great work. Bill was usually on the other side of the redevelopment projects that have taken place recently as a councilman, I think a mayor necessarily sees things somewhat differently. Does Bill stay closely aligned with the grass-roots side of his support base, or does he lose them as he works with larger developers and investment entities? It'll be interesting to see.


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