For a city of such remarkable visual density—homes carved into the hillsides, the Point and the dramatic riverfronts—the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena in the Lower Hill is a bald spot which tells a story of Pittsburgh’s recent history.
Yesterday, Mayor Bill Peduto, joined by city, county, and state officials, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle of District 6 and Travis Williams, the Penguins’ Chief Operating Officer, announced an agreement which will dramatically remake the space.
The Penguins own the development rights to the land. In the next few months, they will move forward with the first phase of a mixed-use plan which will include office and retail space, and housing. They will buy the publicly-owned land at market value and have until the end of October 2015 to purchase the first 10 percent.
Through a new tax increment financing (TIF) district, the city can earmark revenue from property tax to fund improvements throughout Bluff, Crawford-Roberts, Terrace Village, Middle Hill, Bedford Dwellings and the Upper Hill. Sixty-five percent of those monies, forecast to be at least $22 million over 20 years, will go into a fund governed by the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority. Its expenditures would be overseen by an advisory board comprised partly of community representatives. The remaining 35 percent would go to the city, county, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Affordable housing and minority and women involvement in business enterprise have been major sticking points during the negotiations which led to the deal. Instead of 35 percent participation for minorities and 15 percent for women, the final agreement made provisions for 30 percent and 15 percent.
Twenty percent of housing on the Lower Hill development site will be affordable housing, markedly lower than the 30 percent for which Lavelle advocated. Some of the units to be built by McCormack Baron Salazar and a minority developer yet to be determined will rent for as low as $600 a month, though prices will range from 60 to 80 percent of the area median cost.
When the Lower Hill Redevelopment plan was approved by the federal government in 1955, the subsequent razing of the site displaced 8,000 residents and separated the Hill from the commerce and vitality of Downtown. Officials say the agreement reached today will restore that link, aided by a $1.55 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to design a plan to connect the two neighborhoods.
The image above of the intended development can be seen in its entirety here.