What will the sale of the Penguins mean for the development of the Hill District?

As earth moving equipment begins to reshape the old Civic Arena site, the entire Hill District development landscape threatens to change this month.

Fenway Sports Group, based in Boston [FSG] has a pending purchase from the Pittsburgh Penguins, potentially putting Lower Hill redevelopment in the hands of a billionaire whose Boston Red Sox ownership coincides with the gentrification of the baseball zone.

Less publicly, a potential rival to the Hill Community Development Corp. is waiting to see if it will become the second registered community organization in the neighborhood. Such a designation could alter the public processes governing the planned more than $ 1 billion construction plans in Lower Hill.

Here are the questions we asked and the answers we got during a week of uncertainty for the Hill.

Would a sale of the Penguins change the club’s commitments to redevelop the arena site?

The hockey franchise received the rights to develop the 28-acre site as part of the complex deal that led to the construction of the 11-year-old PPG Paints Arena. In 2014, the team’s development arm, Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment LLC, signed a collaboration and community implementation plan. [CCIP], which describes the community benefits expected to flow from the development to the rest of the Hill.

The Penguins have given most of the development tasks to the Delaware-based Buccini / Pollin group. [BPG]. Site preparation recently began at the west end, where the new First National Bank headquarters tower is expected to rise to 2.5 acres.

“A change in ownership, if any, would in no way affect the engagement of the Penguins in the Lower Hill redevelopment effort,” wrote Kevin Acklin, chief operating officer and general counsel for the Penguins, in response to the comments. questions from PublicSource.

The Lower Hill District site planned for the new First National Bank headquarters tower. Photo by Kaycee Orwig / Public source.

Executives at Hill CDC, which held a meeting Thursday night, said they were still gathering information about the potential impact of a sale.

“We urged elected officials to get information on what this means for Lower Hill’s development rights,” Hill CDC Chairman Marimba Milliones told about 45 attendees at the virtual meeting. “We need to make sure that the new ownership group understands the commitment that comes with this ownership. “

What is the FSG and what does it say about the Hill District?

The FSG is a sports conglomerate whose best-known assets are the Red Sox and their stadium, the Liverpool Football Club and its stadium. Its main owner is billionaire John Henry. Its most famous investor may well be basketball star LeBron James. And an important connection to Pittsburgh is Larry Lucchino, an Allderdice High School graduate who became president of the Red Sox and remains a partner of the FSG.

Questions submitted by PublicSource to the FSG on Friday were not immediately addressed.

What will be the role of neighborhood voices?

As the Penguins and BPG redevelop parts of the old arena site, they must get public approval. These would come from the entities that own the land – the Sports & Exhibition Authority [SEA] and the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] – plus the Town Planning Commission.

Since 2018, the city code requires developers to try to organize development activity meetings with registered community organizations. [RCOs] before getting commission approval. The URA board has also tended to heed the comments of RCOs. None of the organizations are legally bound to take neighbors’ comments into account.

The Hill District RCO is the 34-year-old Hill CDC. He argued that government agencies should wait to approve development plans and sell the land until the Penguins and BPG provide a condition sheet that ensures sufficient community benefits.

The Penguins and BPG have offered $ 34 million in community benefits – some backed by FNBs and others from funds that would normally go to tax agencies – stemming from the tour project. The Hill CDC responded with requests that included investment opportunities for residents, affordable office space inside the tower, and savings bonds for neighborhood children.

So far, the SEA, URA and the commission have allowed the Penguins and BPG to proceed with the FNB tower. However, each section of the site will require a new round of community meetings and public approvals.

Is there new neighborhood support for the redevelopment effort?

Hill District residents and business people have spoken out for and against the efforts of the Penguins and BPG in public hearings, and now some of the promoters are trying to form their own RCOs.

“I fully support the FNB project and we are ready to move forward,” said Tonya Ford, in a video montage the development team released for the Planning Commission on May 4. In that same video, Gilbert Lowe also declared his support. At a meeting of the URA board of directors on May 26, the two spoke out in favor of the sale of the Lower Hill lands to an entity created by BPG, the Penguins and FNB, and among those who joined, there was Sauntee ‘Turner.

In September, Ford, Lowe and Turner filed for the new Hill District Collaborative to be designated RCO for the Hill District and the Bluff.

In its candidacy, the collaborative indicated that they have a board of directors of nine to 21 members, but neither the candidacy nor the collaborative’s website mentions them. The collaboration declined to disclose its board of directors to PublicSource and chose not to participate in an interview. Turner, who was on staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, declined to provide answers after the collaboration asked PublicSource to put their questions in writing.

City councilor Daniel Lavelle wrote a letter approving the collaborative’s candidacy. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Planning director Andrew Dash said this week his department is reviewing the request and may make a decision later this month.

How did the Hill CDC react to the collaborative’s candidacy for RCO status?

In response to the request from the Hill District Collaborative, the Hill CDC held an emergency meeting on October 25.

During the virtual meeting with nearly 100 attendees, Milliones said the CDC was “always excited to engage new people in what’s going on in our neighborhood,” but also warned that the existence of two RCOs would allow “to the city and to private interests” to “steer the process.

“At a time when the future of the Hill District hangs in the balance, this is the last thing we need,” she said.

What if there were two RCOs on the Hill?

If two RCOs do not cooperate on a given development, then it is up to the Planning Department, rather than the groups themselves, to plan and facilitate meetings on development activities.

Millions of people told the emergency meeting that the existence of two RCOs on the Hill could allow developers to attempt a “divide and conquer” strategy in the process of entering the neighborhood.

As the Hill CDC has sought to slow down public approvals for the Penguin-led redevelopment of Lower Hill, leaders of the new Hill District Collaborative have spoken out in favor of the plans. Photo by Kaycee Orwig / Public source.

Could the Hill District Collaborative replace the Hill CDC in the Lower Hill negotiations?

The CCIP created an executive management committee of nine members, including three representatives from the Hill, three people appointed by the team and three chosen by government agencies. Its job is to guide efforts to spread the benefits of Lower Hill development across Middle Hill and Upper Hill, solving problems and building consensus among the parties.

Neighborhood representatives are chosen by a Lower Hill task force. Millions, signatory of the CCIP, is one of them. Even if approved as RCO, the new Hill District Collaborative will not automatically get a seat on the EMC.

As the earth moves, what has the EMC done?

The EMC meets every other Friday. As a body created by the signed CCIP, it is not subject to the Sunshine Act, which requires government agencies to hold decision-making meetings in public. So far, he has not allowed the public or the media to attend.

PublicSource has been asking since August 10 for an opportunity to observe the EMC process. On September 1, Lavelle said in a short interview that the EMC “strives to open it up to all media and the public” after “the next two or three meetings.”

Since then, Lavelle has not responded to monthly calls, texts and emails requesting an update.

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @richelord.

Developing PGH was made possible through funding from The Heinz Endowments.

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