As the sale of the Penguins marches on, parties interested in the redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site are looking for more assurances of the buyer’s commitments to the Hill District.
A nine-member Executive Management Committee [EMC], charged with monitoring the flow of the benefits from the site to the rest of the neighborhood, held its first public meeting on Dec. 10, just a day after the sale received two key approvals.
On Dec. 9, the Sports and Exhibition Authority [SEA] board and the National Hockey League Board of Governors both approved the sale of a majority interest in the Penguins to Fenway Sports Group [FSG], based in Boston.
The sale has raised questions in the Hill because of the complex arrangements that govern the development effort.
The Penguins have created Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment LLC. PAR is a party to the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan [CCIP], also signed by government and neighborhood leaders, which sets goals for sharing the development’s benefits throughout the neighborhood. PAR has partnered with Delaware-based Buccini/Pollin Group [BPG] to redevelop the site.
The seven-year-old EMC includes representatives of the Penguins, the public sector and the neighborhood, and is not legally required to hold open meetings. PublicSource has been asking since Aug. 10 for access to one of its meetings. The panel, which meets every two weeks, now plans to hold one public proceeding each calendar quarter.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, a co-chair of the EMC, said he had “a very brief conversation with one of the partners at the Fenway group who has articulated that they do intend to stand by all of the commitments and all of the agreements that are in place.”
At the virtual meeting, Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corp. and an EMC member, asked if anyone had specifics about FSG’s commitments.
Tracey McCants Lewis, an EMC member who is also an attorney with the Penguins, said that PAR had supplied a “certification” to both the SEA and the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority that the sale would “not change anything with regard to the commitments in the option agreement relative to the Lower Hill redevelopment.” She said the commitments include both the Penguins’ redevelopment of the 28-acre former arena site and the CCIP pledge to leverage the construction to benefit the entire Hill.
Milliones suggested that FSG be invited to a January meeting of the EMC. McCants Lewis said she would send an invitation but could not yet commit to a time frame.
An FSG spokesperson did not respond immediately to a PublicSource email requesting an interview.
The EMC also discussed the development team’s first payment to the Greater Hill District Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund, created to spread the fund improvements in the Middle Hill and Upper Hill. The development team fell $313,000 short of its $7.5 million pledge associated with the approval of construction of the new First National Bank headquarters on the site’s western edge.
Lavelle said that the shortfall was driven by the fees associated with the borrowing needed to make the contribution. Chris Buccini, a co-president of BPG, told Lavelle that the shortfall would be covered when the headquarters tower receives its occupancy permit from the city, the councilman told the EMC.
A URA representative told the EMC that the authority is trying to get PAR and BPG to supply target dates for redevelopment of other parts of the site, including a proposed Live Nation concert venue. The next contractual deadline is Oct. 22, 2023, by which the development team must purchase a total of 10.75 acres. It has so far purchased around 3 acres.
BPG representatives said they have committed $25 million in contracts to minority-owned businesses and $5.2 million to women-owned businesses, out of a total of $87 million in contracts let out. They have struggled, though, to attract Hill residents to hiring and training opportunities.
Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @richelord.
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