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Questions arise over use, management of Main Street TIF money

By Jim Hosek,
Tri-State Sports & News Service
for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Wednesday, March 26, 2003

A $1.5 million county loan to jump-start so-called “Main Street” revitalization of the Homestead/Munhall/West Homestead business district could be in jeopardy.

At issue is who will manage an annual $100,000 allotment from The Waterfront’s multipurpose Tax Increment Financing program.

Allegheny County said it would give the three boroughs a $1.5 million advance toward a larger multimillion-dollar business district project. The $1.5 million, in the $100,000 annual allotments, would go for the Main Street corridor.

The county and the three boroughs had picked the Steel Valley Enterprise Zone Corp. to handle distribution of Main Street money.

But, besieged by some questioning of the plan, Munhall council last Wednesday withdrew its support from the corporation. Homestead council is considering doing the same thing on Monday. West Homestead council is not considering such action.

Allocation of $100,000 annually is clouded by how many streets are covered in the Main Street corridor.

In that regard, it’s not clear whether the money can be used for projects on 6th and 7th avenues in all three boroughs.

The 1998 Main Street agreement signed by county and borough officials refers to money going to the Main Street corridor, then later mentions only State Route 837, which is 8th Avenue.

Elisa Cavalier, general counsel of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said the $100,000 annual payments should not cover 6th and 7th avenues.

“The Main Street agreement says 8th Avenue only,” she said, adding that if there have been any decisions regarding the Main Street fund, they have not been made publicly under the state Sunshine Act. “This process should be democracy in action, and it’s not.”

Cavalier said a procedure for administering the annual $100,000 fund should be worked out and made public. She said other groups besides the enterprise zone corporation should be able to put together proposals for using the money; bid solicitations should go out, if necessary, for services; and audits should be done.

She also questioned the enterprise zone corporation’s proposal for coordination and administration of the fund: $18,000 for itself through Starrett & Associates; $8,500 to Mon Valley Initiative; and $8,500 for the Homestead-area Economic Revitalization Corp.’s Main Street manager.

Homestead council President Evan Baker said his council is having Solicitor Bernard Schneider look into administration of the Main Street fund. Maybe it should be handled by a government agency, Baker said.

He admitted the TIF meetings haven’t been advertised, but maintained the information is public. He said the Sunshine Law is a concern.

Baker said he had been under the impression the county’s $1.5 million loan using TIF money was approved, “but, now, I’m not so sure.”

But he defended the plan. He interpreted the Main Street corridor to mean 6th, 7th and 8th avenues. “Anything good that happens on 6th and 7th benefits 8th. And it’s our feeling that if we take that money up-front instead of just using $100,000 per year for small projects, the community will be better served; $100,000 doesn’t go very far.”

West Homestead council President Dan Isaacs said his council has no questions about the way anything is set up or interpreted.

Jim Thomas, the enterprise corporation president, said anyone could have come to his organization with proposals on how to use the money. He said he feared that if other organizations make proposals, with so many people having cross memberships on other local boards, it would cause disunity and delay any proposed projects.

He said his organization has been able to accomplish millions of dollars in improvements since it formed 10 years ago.

“We want to fix up the area that makes sense in relation to The Waterfront, and that includes 6th and 7th avenues, too,” he said.

Thomas and Baker defended TIF money going toward administrative fees.

Copyright ©1997-2003 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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