Menu Contact/Location

Hill District coalition seeks say in development

By Lou Ransom
New Pittsburgh Courier

Plans to meet with officials and demand inclusion and input

A coalition of Hill District organizations are protesting recent talks between city, county and state officials and the Pittsburgh Penguins over funding for a new arena, complaining that the Hill District should be a part of the discussions.

HILL PROTEST—Marimba Milliones, chair of the Hill Community Development Corp,, wants Hill residents to have a say in arena negotiations. She was flanked by other coalition members, including, from left; Rev. Glen Grayson, Rev. Johnnie Monroe and Rep. Jake Wheatley.

“It is unconscionable and entirely unacceptable for City representatives and other elected officials to continue a process of engagement with the Pittsburgh Penguins or any other entity that seeks to develop within and in the front yard of the Greater Hill District community without taking into account the concerns of the citizens who live, work and play here 24 hours a day,” said spokesperson Marimba Milliones, chair of the Hill Community Development Corp, reading from a prepared statement.

“At this point in our history and upon the cusp of change, it is important to come to the table to address the wrongs of our collective past, engage the needs of our present and move forward into a brighter future for the Greater Hill District Community and the City of Pittsburgh, as a whole.”

The group is particularly troubled that the discussions have included talk of granting exclusive development rights to the Penguins, part of the sweeteners designed to keep the franchise in Pittsburgh.

Reverend Johnnie Monroe, pastor of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, called on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, County Executive Dan Onorato and Gov. Ed Rendell to remember the historic significance of the arena site, which was cleared of Hill District residents 50 years ago to make way for the arena.

“We don’t want that to happen again,” he said.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley said that the new coalition group, which has dubbed itself the Hill Development League, should be a part of any negotiations. He said that at the very least, the Hill’s elected officials, including him and City Council representative Tonya Payne should have been consulted. “No one has contacted me, and no one has included Tonya. That doesn’t make any sense, when the arena property is within our representative areas.”

Wheatley said the group hopes to meet with elected officials this week to demand inclusion and input.

Milliones noted that development rights to the arena area were supposed to go to the winning slots casino bidder, in this case, Don Barden’s PITG Gaming. The Hill Development League has been in contact with Barden, and Barden has already floated ideas for what that development should look like, and has invited Hill District resident input.

Carl Redwood, a member of the coalition and chair of the Hill Consensus Group, said the Penguins should have no say on that 27-acre piece of land, bordered by Crawford St., which has been zoned as part of Downtown, though it is still referred to as “Lower Hill.”

“The Penguins have been located in the Hill District since 1967,” said Redwood. “They have never viewed themselves as a Hill District neighbor.” Redwood criticized the city for renaming a street near the arena for Mario Lemieux. “They should have named it after Frankie Pace, not Lemieux. They used to open the arena to allow for community skating, they don’t do that anymore. They don’t do anything for the community.”

It is expected that a deal on the arena could come very soon. Deadlines are passing in Kansas City, where a new arena is awaiting an anchor tenant. Gov. Rendell has threatened to go to the National Hockey League board to force the Penguins to stay in town.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633