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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Are gloves coming off in Penguins/Hill dispute?

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 5:09 PM

Hill District leaders are used to dropping the gloves with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But as their criticism of the team has mounted, the Hill District Consensus Group says the hockey team's president recently directed a cryptic threat to the neighborhood group's leader.

According to Carl Redwood, convener of the Consensus Group, Penguins President David Morehouse was "fuming" after Redwood addressed City Council on May 23 at the Hill District's Epiphany Catholic Church, where members of the public voiced their feelings about the Penguins' plan to demolish the Civic Arena. In his comments to council, Redwood criticized the team for offering little back to the community in exchange for lucrative development deals.

"Morehouse came up to me right after I spoke and said, 'Where I come from, when you get sucker-punched, you punch back,'" Redwood tells City Paper. "We can't even speculate as to what that means."

Today, the Consensus Group issued a press release about the exchange. Titled "Discussions of Multi-Million $ Subsidy for Civic Arena Demo turn ugly: Pens President Lashes out in anger at Hill District Consensus Group," the release states that "While the meaning behind Mr. Morehouse's words is unclear, it would seem that the Penguins would prefer not to have the public subsidies they receive discussed in public forums."

Penguins officials could not immediately be reached for comment. But Redwood's May 23 criticism of the team was scathing. 

During his address to City Council, Redwood fretted that the Penguins won't have to foot the bill for tearing down the Civic Arena or preparing the site for future development. "Where is the community benefit in this deal?" asked Redwood, whose group favors demolishing the arena. "The Penguins expect the public ... to pay for the demolition and the site prep and then turn the land over to them to collect all parking revenue and future revenue."

Some community benefits are already apparent: The Penguins have pledged $1 million toward the Hill District grocery store expected to open in November. But Redwood maintains that the value of subsidies and development rights given to the team could reach $1 billion. "Where is the other $999 million?" he asked. "It is $999 million in profit for the rich people in the Penguins Corporation."

The Penguins currently operate roughly 2,500 parking spaces in lots surrounding Mellon Arena, generating anywhere from $7-15 per parking space for the team. Late last year, the Consensus Group launched a campaign to get the Penguins to allocate $1 per car toward a community fund that would, for example, help pay for a bus loop through the Hill District.

The Consensus Group estimates that the fund would generate roughly $600,000 a year for the neighborhood. But the Penguins want nothing to do with it.

"As Gandhi said, 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,'" Redwood announced during a May 13 Consensus Group meeting. "We're in the ignore phase right now."

Maybe not for much longer.

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