Hill District leaders seek arena role
By Andrew Conte
Hill District community leaders said Sunday they want to share in development rights for the Lower Hill District if a new Uptown arena gets built. Those rights for the Mellon Arena site could be worth tens of millions of dollars, and they are at the center of negotiations between public officials and the Penguins over how to pay for an arena.
“It’s unconscionable and unacceptable to negotiate development rights without engaging the community,” said Marimba Milliones, chair of the Hill Community Development Corp. “There needs to be an envisioning process.”
Penguins spokesman David Morehouse said the hockey team sought community input before it partnered with Isle of Capri Casinos on a proposal to build an arena with gambling money. Last month, state officials granted the sole Pittsburgh slots license to PITG Gaming, which plans to build a casino on the North Shore, west of Carnegie Science Center. Morehouse said the Penguins would continue to work with community leaders if the team decides to stay in Pittsburgh.
“It’s a little premature to comment on development when we’re not even sure yet whether we’re going to be here,” Morehouse said.
About a dozen people — including Hill District residents, ministers and social workers — announced yesterday outside Mellon Arena that they have formed a new group, the Greater Hill District Development League.
The group wants to be part of the ongoing arena negotiations and to have a say in redevelopment of the Mellon Arena site, said state Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr., D-Hill District. Members hope to meet this week with local public officials.
“The community itself wants, needs and demands a seat at the table,” Wheatley said. “We want to be a part of the future of this site.”
Talks between public officials and the Penguins broke off this month over development rights and revenues from a proposed arena. The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns Mellon Arena, had agreed to give the rights to anyone who helped pay for a new arena.
Gov. Ed Rendell has said he expects to talk with Penguins owners early this week to resume negotiations.
Don Barden, of PITG Gaming, has agreed to pay $7.5 million a year for 30 years toward an arena. The state would pay $7 million a year from an economic development fund backed with gambling money.
The original proposal called for the Penguins to pay $8.5 million up front and $2.9 million a year while forgoing $1.16 million a year in naming rights. Rendell has said public officials have significantly reduced the team’s contribution but the amount has not been made public.
Andrew Conte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 320-7835.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review