Every time a car is parked in a Mellon Arena lot, the Pittsburgh Penguins get a little richer. Some neighborhood leaders say the community should get a cut of the action, too.
The Penguins currently operate roughly 2,500 parking spaces in lots surrounding Mellon Arena -- and more could be on the way. Day or night, the team takes in anywhere from $7-15 per parking space. But Carl Redwood, head of the Hill District Consensus Group, says his organization wants the team to allocate $1 per car for a community fund to help support the neighborhood.
"It's very reasonable," says Redwood. "Why should the Pens get $7 a car and the community get nothing?"
Hill District residents have long griped about the Penguins profiting from turning the Lower Hill into a huge parking lot. Before the arena was built in the early 1960s, the area was home to businesses and housing developments. Today, residents argue, the area is essentially a glorified vacant lot serving hockey fans and concert-goers who don't live in the Hill.
With Mellon Arena destined for demolition, Redwood says the Penguins' parking profits are bound to increase in the near future. It will be a while before the 49-year-old landmark's fate is known -- on Nov. 23, the arena was nominated for designation as a city historic structure. But if it's knocked down, hundreds more parking spaces are likely to be added before the team begins developing the 28-acre site.
But for Hill District residents, Redwood says, enough is enough.
"Parking is the main business in the Lower Hill right now," Redwood laments. "But [the neighborhood] doesn't get the revenue."
And the Hill, he says, could surely use it. For instance, Redwood says the Hill needs security cameras installed on Centre Avenue to help stop open drug-trafficking that has plagued the street.
While the $1-per-car proposal has been raised at recent hearings before the Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns Mellon Arena, Redwood says the Consensus Group has yet to sit down with the Penguins and government officials to formally discuss the creation of a community fund. But he hopes negotiations will begin soon.
Penguins spokesperson Tom McMillan did not return multiple phone messages seeking comment. Mary Conturo, executive director of the SEA, declined comment, referring questions to the Penguins.
Joanna Doven, spokesperson for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, notes that city leaders, team officials and community representatives had already agreed to a deal -- the Community Benefits Agreement -- ensuring the Hill District would benefit from a new arena. With that agreement in place, she says, the mayor would not support the Hill's efforts for a community fund.
"This sounds like an attempt to renegotiate the [CBA]," says Doven, noting that the city is planning to install three security cameras on Centre Avenue by the end of the year. "We believe that the CBA was fair."
In 2008, during CBA negotiations, the creation of a $10 million community-controlled fund proved to be one of the most contentious discussion planks preventing all parties from signing an agreement. The Penguins, along with city and county officials, staunchly opposed the proposal. In an effort to finalize a deal, Hill District leaders eventually surrendered their fight for a community fund, agreeing instead to a state-run tax-credit program.
But some politicians who represent the Hill say the Penguins should rethink their stance against a community fund.
Pittsburgh City Councilor Daniel Lavelle says he generally supports creating such a fund, though he's unsure exactly how it should be set up.
"I believe we can get the [Penguins] to the table," he says. "But I can't guess what their response would be."
Allegheny County Councilor Bill Robinson says the Penguins would be wise to agree to a $1-per-car fund. "If the Penguins are to be successful" when they eventually develop the Lower Hill, he says, "they need the community around them to be successful. [A community fund] is a great way for the Pens to protect their investment."