If all goes as they plan, the sun that shone brightly as federal, state and local officials gathered to break ground on $440 million project at the former Civic Arena site, will mark a new dawn for the Hill District and beyond.
Though largely ceremonial, the event was not entirely so because the groundbreaking marked the beginning of infrastructure work on the 28-acre site that was created in the late 1950s by destroying more than 1,000 buildings, hundreds of businesses and displacing more than 8,000 residents—all of them Black.
“Fifty years ago the urban renewal done in this site destroyed a nice legacy in a lot of ways,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “Fifty years later we’re trying to retransform this area and undo some of the problems that we caused. This is a transformative project. It’s taking place in a really good area and it’s really important to the heart soul and life of Pittsburgh.”
The first phase of the project will involve building two new streets. The first will connect Bedford Avenue to Centre Avenue, with a separate street connecting that new road to Crawford Street. Work is scheduled to be completed in July of 2016.
A second street connecting Bedford Avenue to Centre Avenue is expected to begin in the near future. A $15 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant will cover the costs of the initial work on the site. The street grid portion alone is projected at $36 million, including roadways, sidewalks, energy efficient street lighting, stormwater planters and street trees, and storm, sanitary and water lines.
The anchor tenant for the project will be U.S. Steel. But their five-story office building design has yet to pass the city planning commission, which had more than one member say it was not distinctive enough.
United States Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pittsburgh, said the project was a long time coming.
“This is our chance to fix the mistakes that were made decades ago. I’ve been very supportive of the plans to revitalize the Hill District and reconnect it to the downtown,” he said. “I worked hard to help secure a federal planning grant for this redevelopment, and I will continue to cooperate with local officials and community leaders to bring this project to successful completion.”
Also present were Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, State Sen. Jay Costa, D- Wilkinsburg, city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle as well as representatives from U.S. Steel developer Clayco Realty, the Sports and Exhibition Authority, the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Sports and Exhibition Chair and state Sen. Wayne Fontana called the day historic.
“It’s an enormous milestone and undertaking going forward,” he said. ”And it will serve as a gateway between the hill district and downtown.”
Peduto said that 50 years ago they had a strange, different way to deal with development.
“It was the wrecking ball. It was the bulldozer. It was disconnecting a community from a town the community was always part of,” he said. “Over the last year we’ve looked for a way that goes beyond one building to benefit everything around us,” he said. “Today we are building community.”
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