Hill District Consensus Group’s August 29th Meeting on the Casino/Growth Fund

This meeting was actually held in August, but summing it up now will give some good background for later posts on the fund and the Hill District’s effort to get a grocery store. The Hill District Consensus Group (HDCG), my wife’s (Dr. Bonnie Young Laing) employer, sponsored the meeting and featured PA State Representative Jake Wheatley, my Omega Psi Phi Fraternity brother, providing information and answering questions about a fund called the Growth Fund, please click here for a Growth Fund Public Information Document provided to me by Rep. Wheatley’s office in advance of the meeting and here for information on the fund provided by HDCG.  For a more complete summary of the meeting, please click here for the Hill District Consensus Group’s meeting summary.

Active for about two years, the fund has made $400,000 in grants to the Hill District Community Development Corporation to support its operations and it will reportedly be ready to make grants to other community organizations by the end of 2012.

Rep. Wheatley shared the following about the fund:

  • Proposed projects must be tied to the Hill District Master Plan;
  • Developers must have a relationship to a Hill District non-profit organization to be eligible;
  • The fund is housed at the POISE foundation and is governed by 8 voting members with an extra 3 non-voting political representatives (see the above link for a list of the members);
  • The fund should be ready to make grants by the end of the year;

In addition to discussing general questions on the fund, a question promoted in advance of the meeting was whether the fund would give money to the grocery store. This issue did come up and important questions were raised, but not resolved. In response to a question that was asked about the status of the grocery store, Ms. Cheryl Hall-Russell, C.E.O. of the Hill House Association (HHA) and the Hill House Economic Development Corporation (the EDC), communicated that the EDC had indeed submitted a request to the Growth Fund for the Grocery Store. However, when the application was submitted the criteria had not been developed and she was unclear about how decisions on the fund were being made. Hall-Russell added that time was of the essence and so waiting until the end of the year was a problem. Rep Wheatley responded that the fund was not responsible for the deadlines facing the Hill House and shared that the Hill House’s request was for $800,000, with $400,000 coming as a grant request and $400,000 as a request for a loan. He further added that the request had provoked questions from the fund that needed to be resolved before a decision could be made and that the Growth Fund had sent these to the EDC.

During the meeting I asked Rep. Wheatley if he was at liberty to share the questions the Growth Fund sent to the EDC and he replied that he did not know the questions off the top of his head, but that he could get them to me. I have been in discussion with Rep. Wheatley’s office about these questions and they have been responsive, but they have said they would like to have the Hill House Association’s agreement that it is ok to share this information. This is understandable, so I will give an update on that issue in a later post. It may also turn out there are more important matters to focus on.

At one point in the meeting, I said to Rep. Wheatley that I thought the governing committee of the fund should rotate members because the membership seemed to me closely affiliated with the Representative’s campaign and the Hill CDC and that this fund was quasi-public because of the nature of the Representative’s position as a political representative. The Representative stated that the fund was not actually a public fund and that he had a number of ideas on how to use grants panels made up of community members so that the residents could have significant input on how decisions were made.  Ms. Marimba Milliones, Executive Director of the Hill District CDC, had the last comment of the meeting and said my comments were unfair, that this governing group had stood up in defense of the neighborhood and that Rep. Wheatley should be commended for going to get these resources for the benefit of the Hill (these comments are not reflected in the HDCG summary). I actually agree with Marimba’s comments with the exception of the one saying that my statement about the relationship of the governing committee to the Representative and the Hill CDC was unfair, but may deal with that in a later post.

The meeting closed with the moderator of the meeting, Dr. Emma Lucas Darby, thanking Rep. Wheatley and the public for coming out for the discussion and adding that it was clear that the community was not clear about the fund and that more information should be available in writing. The Representative seemed amenable to this idea and hopefully this blog and the Hill District Consensus Group’s meeting summary are steps in that direction. A special shout out to the Consensus Group for convening this discussion.

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