Overview:

Developers want to build a live music venue with a small business incubator along with urban open space around Wylie Avenue between Fullerton and Logan Streets.

Too many new documents and not enough time to go through them led the City Planning Commission to reschedule its vote on a developer’s application to build a live music venue in the Lower Hill District.

Plans to redevelop the former 28-acre Civic Arena site date back to at least 2014, and the latest proposal will have to wait a little longer. Commissioners on Tuesday noted that Penguins-picked developer, Buccini/Pollin Group [BPG], submitted a 101 page document shortly before the meeting and the community and the commissioners did not have enough time to go through it.

The document updates the commission on community benefits from the development. The commission began requiring updates after its 2021 approval of the plans for the First National Bank headquarters now under construction on the western end of the site.

At the commission’s public hearing on the proposal, around half a dozen Hill residents expressed their disapproval of the plan. 

The developers want to build a live music venue with a small business incubator along with urban open space around Wylie Avenue between Fullerton and Logan Streets. The 4,600-seat entertainment venue would be operated by Live Nation. The parking garage would have 900 spaces and the developers estimate construction to total $110 million. 

“We’ve got a last minute document so we have a little bit of a trust issue,” said LaShawn Burton-Faulk, the commission’s vice chair, after hearing BPG’s presentation of its proposal. “So with respect to that, we need to give everyone an opportunity to review it.”

Commissioner Holly Dick agreed, saying, “Ignorance leads to fear so even if it’s a perfectly honorable document, people don’t know what’s in it.” 

Burton-Faulk stressed that the commission wasn’t rejecting the developer’s plan and invited them to hold Zoom meetings with the public, possibly organized by City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle. The proposal could come back before the commission as early as Jan. 24.

“To the applicant, I appreciate all the things that have been put on the table,” Burton-Faulk said. “And I really believe you have been thoughtful in many ways. But there are some things missing. … There doesn’t need to be a consensus but there has absolutely got to be communication.”

BPG told the commission that it has pledged a $2 surcharge for paid tickets at the proposed music venue for 10 years, something that many in the Hill District have demanded in previous meetings.  Funds from the surcharge would go to the Greater Hill District Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund, which also received $7.18 million when construction began on the FNB Financial Center in September 2021.

“We think this is a profound addition for the benefit and support of the community to help it grow while the development grows,” said Craig Dunham, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ senior vice president.

BPG is building FNB Financial Center, and needs approval from the City Planning Commission, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Sports & Exhibition Authority for each phase of the project.

The setting sun shines on an empty sidewalk along Wylie Avenue beside a much-debated section of the Lower Hill on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Pittsburgh. Years after the Lower Hill was demolished to build the Civic Arena, plans to redevelop part of the former site into a music venue have met community skepticism. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Dunham also addressed negotiations with leaders of Bethel AME Church, which was demolished in the 1950s to make way for the Civic Arena. The church has since relocated but Pastor Dale Snyder has repeatedly called for the Penguins to return the church’s original land to the congregation. 

Negotiations over the issue haven’t been resolved and Dunham on Tuesday said that the Penguins still remain “committed to a restorative redevelopment outcome with Bethel AME.”

He said that he and the development team found that the original church property “is partially under a rebuilt road and partially on land designated for open space and development.”

He said that they want to create a mixed-use housing development “opportunity” for the church on a parcel near the former Civic Arena site. 

“Even though the original church parcel was 13,100 square feet,we agreed to increase the development parcel up to 1.5 acres, which is nearly five times the size of the original parcel,” he continued.

Dunham noted that the Penguins did not exist at the time of the original church’s demolition, that the church received compensation in 1958 under the eminent domain statute and that Bethel AME has a new building. “Bethel has requested additional financial compensation beyond our generous offer to provide a development opportunity,” he said. “Any discussion about additional financial compensation related to the former church should be directed to the city and public authorities that were involved at the time of the church’s demolition.”

In past meetings with BPG and the Penguins, Snyder accused the developers of attempting to gentrify a Black community.

“We must be mindful of what we want,” he told the commission at its meeting. “This land has been vacant long enough. We can find a way to make a win-win. Our goal at Bethel is to always create a win-win. We can get there by talking to each other, not at each other.”

Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development reporter, and can be reached at ericj@publicsource.org or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.

Do you feel more informed?

Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.

Eric Jankiewicz

Eric Jankiewicz is a reporter focused on housing and economic development for PublicSource. A native New Yorker, Eric moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 and has since fallen in love with his adopted city, even...