Penguins development team scores approval for tower on Civic Arena site

by Rich Lord

The Penguins’ development team crashed the first major goal on the way to a proposed billion-dollar build-out on the site of the former Civic Arena, overwhelming concerns of some Hill District advocates who sought more pledges to the community before construction can start.

In the City Planning Commission’s public hearing on plans to build a 26-story tower anchored by First National Bank, thirteen speakers expressed support for the project, in many cases indicating that they saw potential business opportunities during or after construction. Just six asked the commission to hold off on approving the plan, with one other expressing a nuanced position.

A key voice was Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill, sits on community panels and co-signed a 2014 agreement outlining the benefits the neighborhood must receive from the redevelopment.

“I believe we’re there,” Lavelle told the commission. “This has taken a very long time to get to. This is 10 years, 11 years later, when we’re finally here. Because half of that time was a lot of discussions, bickering at times, fighting at times.”

A yes vote by the commission “allows me to unlock other resources that otherwise would never come to this community,” he said of the proposal that could trigger pledged community benefits. “I believe it would be immoral and unjust if we don’t move this forward.”

This year has seen intense negotiations between the Penguins’ developer Buccini/Pollin Group [BPG] on one side, and the Hill Community Development Corp. on the other. They’ve focused on the degree of specificity of the development team’s promise to invest some $52.5 million throughout the Hill and the CDC’s concern that those pledges are mostly loans or fractions of the public subsidies attached to the project.

Hill CDC Executive Director Marimba Milliones told the commission she was “excited about the potential of this project. … But we must be informed by history.” That history, she noted, included broken promises made in the 1950s, before the Lower Hill was cleared to make way from the arena.

“We lost 8,000 mostly Black residents, 1,300 buildings and 400 businesses,” Milliones said.

An artist’s rendering of the First National Bank tower proposed for the former Civic Arena site, in the Hill District, presented on May 4, 2021 to the City Planning Commission, which approved the proposal.

 

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