Lower Hill District parking lots, north of PPG Paints Arena. "The Penguins are needed,” said URA board member Jodi Hirsh. “Otherwise we're staring at a parking lot for 10 years and a community that continues to be starved of resources." (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Penguins pledge ‘full commitment’ to Lower Hill’s rebirth after URA approval of developer and plan

Pittsburgh’s highest-profile development effort suddenly recovered Thursday after a week on life support, as the Urban Redevelopment Authority board voted 4-1 to approve the Penguins’ chosen development team and conceptual plan for a key piece of the Lower Hill District. The approval means the Penguins can continue working with developer Buccini/Pollin Group to design and build a 26-story tower anchored by First National Bank at the corner of Washington Place and Bedford Avenue. And Penguins’ Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kevin Acklin — who a week ago distributed a biting statement announcing the cessation of development operations — told the board that the project now has “the full commitment of our team.”

While the vote revives the project, it comes with considerable hand-wringing — and three conditions:

The development team and the bank have to continue to work toward providing $11 million — financed with part of the development’s future parking and property taxes —  immediately upon closing the deal, for use on redevelopment and affordable housing throughout the Hill District. The development team has to make its "best efforts" to negotiate a community impact plan consistent with prior commitments they have made to the neighborhood. Future URA votes on the Lower Hill redevelopment effort will be contingent on documented compliance with a 2014 Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan signed by representatives of the Penguins, City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Hill District leaders.

A view of part of the former Civic Arena site, which was slated for redevelopment led by the Pittsburgh Penguins -- until the team announced Thursday that it was ceasing Lower Hill development. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Despite the Penguins’ decision to walk from Lower Hill, URA board will meet Thursday about development terms

Update (5/20/20): Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto urged the Urban Redevelopment Authority board to approve the Penguins' proposed developer and tentative plan to build an office tower in the Lower Hill District, in advance of a URA board vote scheduled for Thursday. He called the potential First National Bank office tower "an extraordinary $200 million investment in the heart of Pittsburgh that will help brace our local economy in a time of great need," which would also result in an $11 million investment in housing and development in the Hill District. Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority board is planning to move forward with a vote Thursday on proposed terms for construction of a Hill District office tower and parking garage by the Penguins, despite the hockey organization’s announcement yesterday that it is ceasing development operations on the former Civic Arena site. "We're moving forward to get this done in the coming days,” said city Chief of Staff Dan Gilman on Friday morning. “We believe this is a project that is still critical to get done and can and should be a win for the neighborhood, the city and the Penguins."

The site near the corner of Washington Place and Bedford Avenue, on which the Pittsburgh Penguins and developer Buccini/Pollin Group had planned to build FNB Tower, photographed May 13. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Pittsburgh Penguins stop Lower Hill development, citing frustration over URA’s pace

The Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday announced that they are halting their years-long effort to redevelop the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill District, following an Urban Redevelopment Authority board decision to delay an approval vote by two weeks. The URA board opted not to vote on whether to approve the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chosen developer and a conceptual plan to build a bank office tower, citing continuing discussions on the benefits that would flow to the Hill District. The board expressed plans to vote within two weeks. The move prompted the Penguins to announce their withdrawal from discussions. “In a week where the Penguins had to furlough a majority of our employees and we are all suffering the worst health and economic crisis in our nation’s history, we are disappointed that the URA delayed a $200 million development project that alone would create 1,500 construction jobs, 2,000 permanent jobs, deliver the highest commitments to minority- and women-owned businesses in the city’s history, and generate $11 million in direct and immediate investment into the middle and upper Hill District,” wrote Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse, in response to a request for comment from PublicSource.

Construction workers pour dirt near the Produce Terminal in Pittsburgh's Strip District in late February 2019. (Photo by Kat Procyck/PublicSource)

The URA in the Williamson era

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority has taken more than 90 significant actions since Sam Williamson became the chair in February 2019. Here are a dozen of the most significant.