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Delay of Game

Is Hill District CBA still unsigned because of procedure or stall tactics?

Are the Pittsburgh Penguins and government officials trying to run out the clock on the Hill District's community-benefits agreement (CBA)? Some community advocates are starting to worry.

"What's holding it up?" asks One Hill Chairman Carl Redwood. "I think it's the politicians. ... One Hill's ready to sign any time, any place."

Redwood's urgency comes more than two months after the One Hill Coalition ratified a tentative CBA with government officials and the Penguins on May 10. At the time, word was that an agreement was just a few weeks, and a few signatures, away from being official. But the community is still waiting.

One Hill is trying to ensure that when the Penguins' new $290 million hockey arena is built, the long-neglected Hill District benefits as well. The CBA would: give Hill District residents dibs on jobs created by the arena; establish a tax-credit program for corporations to contribute up to $6 million for economic development in the neighborhood; and pledge $2 million for a community grocery store.

According to Redwood, inking a deal as soon as possible is critical since One Hill is losing precious time to develop the Master Plan with the city, county and Penguins for the 28 acres surrounding the new arena. If the Oct. 1, 2009 deadline for the plan, which is written into the tentative deal released by One Hill, comes and goes, Redwood fears that the Penguins will have the freedom to develop the land as they wish, without community input.

An employee from Urban Design Associates, a design and architecture firm that developed Crawford Square in the Hill District, says master plans can take anywhere from a month to a year to finish. Although 28 acres isn't considered a very large piece of land, its location in an urban setting will require more condensed development. Consequently, plans could be more involved and take longer to finish.

Some wonder if they'll be able to design the 28 acres in time.

"That's a real problem," Redwood says.

If the wait to finalize the CBA drags on much longer, Redwood says they might need to extend the Master Plan deadline.

"The longer it's not signed, the more the Penguins will be able to push along without community involvement," says County Councilman Bill Robinson, who represents the Hill District. "[One Hill] needs some additional leverage to get this deal signed as soon as possible."

Answering Redwood's concerns about the Master Plan deadline, Yarone Zober, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's chief of staff, says, "If the timetable is an issue, that is something we could discuss."

However, government and Penguins' officials say there's no need to worry about the deal falling through.

"There is not an impasse," says Penguins' senior consultant Ron Porter. "There is no movement by any party to back away."

For the most part, Zober says the holdup mostly has to do with standard government procedures. Earlier this month, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had to approve the CBA, which it did. Now, he says, city council also must approve the agreement, since the CBA includes $90,000 in city money for a neighborhood career center.

"I'd be really interested to know what is required by council," says City Council President Doug Shields, adding that he has not yet seen a written contract. "I haven't had the benefit of legal counsel on what we can agree to and what we can't agree to."

Although he's not sure about the specifics of council's role in the CBA, he agrees that if city money is involved in the deal, it requires the approval of council.

Kevin Evanto, spokesperson for County Executive Dan Onorato, says finalizing the agreement is just a matter of "getting our I's dotted and our T's crossed. ... The final details and such are being worked out."

None of the parties involved would specify what details are still being discussed. However, all agree that although the four-page tentative agreement One Hill released to the public doesn't appear very intricate, it actually is.

"It is a very complex agreement," Porter says. "Everybody wants to get it right."

But coalition leaders say enough's enough – their pens are clicked.

"We're ready to go," says Evan Frazier, One Hill's lead negotiator. "We've indicated that we were ready to sign some time ago."

As tiresome as the CBA process has proved, some say that was to be expected.

"If rapidity were a criterion for [CBA] success, I would have fallen to the ground and cried myself to death," says Barney Oursler, a member of Northside United, which is currently advocating for a CBA on the North Side. "It's a time-consuming process."

Continental Real Estate is planning to build a $26.5 million, 178-room Hyatt Place hotel on the North Side, but community leaders say they must first negotiate a CBA. North Siders want the new development to meet "green" building standards, and, like One Hill, they are seeking family-sustaining jobs and youth training programs to help improve the neighborhood.

Having been involved in the Hill District CBA, Oursler says he and other North Side advocates are now familiar with the process, so it will be more difficult for developers and government officials to catch them off guard. Now, for instance, North Siders won't panic if other parties back away from the negotiating table, as they did at times during roughly a year of CBA discussions in the Hill. And they won't grow weary if talks drag on for months and months.

"Everything we see on the Hill is teaching us a lot about what to expect in any other CBA," Oursler says. We've already learned a lot."

Delay of Game
One Hill's Carl Redwood, left, and Evan Frazier, say One Hill is ready to sign the Community-Benefits Agreement and wrap up a process that has gone on for months.

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