Good Night at Hill CDC Meeting. Opportunities for Public Campaign?

This past Tuesday the Hill CDC had a meeting to give “critical updates” to the community re: the issues of the Lower Hill. I was only able to make the second half of the meeting, but from what I saw it looked good on several fronts. Good turnout. Good energy in the room of more than 100 folks that tended to be a little older than me-maybe 50’s 60’s and people stayed in the room through the end and then hung around afterwards. Ms. Marimba Milliones, Executive Director of the Hill CDC, presented on the key issues being negotiated by the Lower Hill Working Group and gave the members of that group as Councilman Daniel Lavelle, Marimba Milliones, Glenn Grayson (elected at July 1 CDC meeting as community representative), David Hopkins, Bomani Howze, William Generett, Marc Little, Jason Matthews, Micah Taylor (elected at July 1 CDC meeting as community representative),  Brenda Tate, Rev. Margaret Tyson, Dewitt Walton, Rev. Tom Smith, & Sala Udin. From the power point handout I note that the following issues were presented as the key areas of concern: (1) The need for the Pens to agree to a legally enforceable document; (2) 30% affordable housing; (3) Lower Hill Working Group will have “fair share decision making with the Penguins over the long haul” and (4) An ongoing revenue stream that comes back to the Hill District over many years.

The next section of the presentation focused on the Penguins’ Preliminary Land Development Plan (PLDP) and the work of the PLDP & Street Grid Committee whose members were listed as Audrey Anderson, John Anderson, William Bercik, Esq, Robert Damewood, Esq., Phyliss Ghafoor, Bomani Howze, Bonnie Laing*, Justin Laing,* Emma Pipkin, Glenn Seals, Susan Rademacher*, George Moses*. The asterisk signifies contributors. My wife, Bonnie, and I stopped participating on the committee because of the requirement that participants treat documents to and from the Penguins as confidential, but made contributions early on. The feedback of this group produced a 30 page memo that the handout says is available at the request of the CDC.

One of my questions was how the negotiation strategy could be expanded to include a public campaign. In 2007, the Penguins got their base mobilized with the threat to take their puck and go to Kansas City. When negotiations stalled Mr. Lemieux would skate out and say “It’s looking good out there, we could leave any second, I mean it!”. You may remember that one of the sticking points in those negotiations was the Penguins receiving the development rights for the Lower Hill. Ms. Milliones asked how many would sign a petition in support of the effort, and it appeared about a quarter of the room would get behind the idea (hardly a scientific poll, as there really wasn’t a lot of time to discuss why the pros and cons of this idea). Councilman Lavelle said he would sponsor a petition and bring it to the next meeting and I suggested that more information be provided on the issues being negotiated and why they matter, even info that could be found on the web. The Councilman said he was amenable to this idea, so we’ll see (for example, the power point alludes to a draft negotiation document that is in the works).

One sticking point between the Lower Hill District Working Group and the Penguins is whether the development will include 20% affordable housing which is what the Penguins want and is the number they used in their study of the economic impact of this development and the 30% number used in the Hill District Master Plan. Also critical is that the definition the two groups are using of “affordable housing” are different. The Hill District Master Plan defines affordable as no more than 50% of the City’s Average Median Income (AMI) and the Penguins want to use 80% of the AMI as the bar.  Although I didn’t hear this (again, I got there an hour into the meeting) I would bet another one of the sticking points in the negotiation is any hint that the Penguins will put their own $ in the deal for “an ongoing revenue stream that comes back to the Hill District over many years.” The Penguins resistance on at least the first issue is why it seems to me a robust public advocacy campaign is necessary and also why I as a PLDP committee member I suggested that the memo to the Penguins make direct references to the Community Benefits Agreement negotiated by One Hill Community Benefits Coalition as legal support for the parts of the Penguins plan that do not honor the Master Plan (and there are many), but the CDC did not make this choice. (The steward of the CBA is the Hill District Consensus Group, of which my wife is the co-director and I was very active in the leadership of One Hill, particularly before it elected its own leadership)

Some of the questions raised by community members were as follows: Will anything happen to the senior citizen housing that boarders the site? Councilman Lavelle’s response was that nothing would happen to the K. Leroy Irvis Towers as long as he was in office. Could the Penguins agree to 30% affordable housing now and if the community’s income goes up over the next ten years the number could be moved to 20%? Lavelle noted this as an interesting idea. Could a benefit from the negotiations include transportation for seniors from downtown to the Hill? This was noted as an interesting idea as well. Another question was raised by Glenn Seals (aka Freedom Fighter) who is usually the community member to speak most forthrightly about issues of race and class (and often gets the most head nods) as to what had to be done to prevent this development from pushing current residents out? Ms. Milliones responded that the issue would be addressed later in the meeting and later she shared news of a coming campaign to get a 100 people to sign up to want to buy new homes in the Hill District. This campaign will involve getting support to interested folks including credit repair and information on securing a loan. While the lower priority for public mobilizing, and what appears to be a choice not to reference the CBA, leaves me some concern as to how we will respond if the Penguins do not negotiate honorably and in accordance with the Master Plan, the turnout and energy in the room suggests folks’ interests and history have us ready. Nice work on the part of the CDC in getting the word out (one resident was very appreciative of the robo call she received).

A last thought on the notion of a campaign to get the Penguins to make the kind of commitment that will set a new norm for how this city interfaces with private entities that get public benefits. In addition to petitions, those of you who use Facebook and Twitter,  post or tweet about why public subsidies require public benefits with the hash tag #PlayFairPens. Even more on line chatter from Hill District residents and non-Hill District residents as to the importance of this negotiation to the Hill District and the region as a whole would be a good thing as the Penguins prepare to kick off the 2013-2014 season next Thursday at the Consol Center. Play fair, Pens.

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