Laying a Bad Foundation? 

The Pittsburgh Penguins apparently skipped an important step last month in constructing a hotel near their new hockey arena. And by doing so, they may have violated the terms of their pledge to the Hill District, the community-benefits agreement (CBA).

"[The Penguins] are falling short on the CBA," announced William Moody, a job-center outreach recruiter, during a Nov. 13 meeting of the Hill District Planning Forum. "They're still blowing smoke."

An effort to help residents share in the benefits of new development, the CBA was reached last year between the Hill District, the Penguins and local government officials. Under its terms, when new jobs become available at the 28-acre development site adjoining the Consol Energy Center, the team is obliged to give residents a crack at the opportunity. The CBA requires "first considering and interviewing for employment candidates that are Hill District residents." 

To meet that requirement, the Penguins are supposed to notify the First Source Job Center of job openings a full week before they are advertised to the general public. But when it came time to start construction on a new hotel, Hill District officials say, the Penguins didn't provide any notice at all. 

In May, the Penguins and Horizon Properties Group purchased an acre of land for a 142-room hotel adjacent to the new arena. Ken Nesbit, site coordinator for the job center, says that in late October, his staff noticed that construction workers had started driving pylons into the ground at the hotel site along Centre Avenue. The job center had heard nothing about work beginning at the site, he says. When he contacted the Penguins to find out if construction had begun, he was told it had.

"We don't want to be notified a week or two after this stuff has started," says Nesbit, noting that a hotel groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 18. 

The Hill District had already missed out on getting construction jobs at the hockey arena itself, because the CBA was signed too late.

To the Penguins' credit, Nesbit says, team officials quickly scheduled a meeting for the next week between the team, the job center, Horizon and Snavely Development Company, the contractor building the hotel. 

"We had a real positive meeting on how we're going to move forward," he says. "I'm encouraged."

But failing to notify the job center about the start of construction, Nesbit adds, could have cost a couple of Hill District residents employment opportunities. He says the job center has identified at least two residents who are union members, and who are qualified and available for work. 

Nesbit says job-center officials will continue to meet with the Penguins, Horizon and Snavely each month, which will help make sure that the job center is part of the hiring process down the road. "But I don't want to paint a rosy picture," he cautions. "We've got to hold them accountable."

Penguins' senior consultant Ron Porter did not return phone calls for comment by press time. Neither did officials from Canonsburg-based Horizon. Mary Conturo, executive director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, also did not respond to calls for comment.

Carl Redwood, who played a significant role in getting the CBA signed as chairman of the community coalition One Hill, admits that the Penguins "technically" violated the CBA. But he counsels restraint about the hotel project. "We're not going to get all upset," he says. "We anticipate that all future [job] openings will be shared with the First Source Center."

"We're hopeful that we can get back on track," agrees Nesbit. "If not, there are going to be protests."



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