One Hill Coalition members ratified a tentative community-benefits agreement (CBA) with government officials and the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 10. Despite misgivings from some dissenters, the vote inches the Hill District one step closer to a completed agreement, which advocates say would help spur economic growth around a new $290 million hockey arena being built in the neighborhood.
Of the coalition's roughly 100 membership groups, just a little more than half voted: 42 favored the deal; 13 voted against it; and one abstained, One Hill leaders announced at a press conference at Hope Square in the Hill District.
"We believe this is a very important win," said One Hill Chief Negotiator Evan Frazier. "This represents a new day for what's to come for the Hill District community."
The tentative agreement, which One Hill's executive committee voted unanimously to accept last month, would: give Hill District residents dibs on jobs; 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.
To solidify a deal, there is one final step One Hill must complete with the help of government and Penguins officials: signing on the dotted line.
"We need to sit down and determine the final signatures to the agreement," Frazier says. "One Hill is absolutely going to sign."
County Executive Dan Onorato "thinks that the vote was a very positive step in this process," says Kevin Evanto, the county executive's spokesperson.
According to Evanto, arrangements for a meeting between all parties to finalize the deal have not yet been made.
"There is no timeline yet," Evanto says. "Each group will be talking, I assume over the next week, about timing and so forth. Our goal is to get approval as quickly as possible."
Despite the cheers and smiles at the press conference, not everyone was praising the tentative deal.
Just before the press conference wrapped up, the Rev. John Welch, president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Network, spoke out against the deal.
"The Penguins are not putting up anything," said Welch, who is also a member of the Hill Faith and Justice Alliance, which urged One Hill members to vote against the deal.
Some One Hill supporters appeared less than enthused by Welch's criticisms. Some rolled their eyes as he spoke, and after the press conference, the organization's official vote-counter, Alma Speed Fox, told him "that was low."
"Look at what the Penguins are getting and what they're giving," Welch said afterward to City Paper. "We want to see the Penguins step up more."
"The Penguins are giving very little to nothing," agrees state Rep. Jake Wheatley, who represents the Hill. "It's a terrible deal.
"If you look at it, it's really taxpayers giving back to taxpayers. ... I think it's ridiculous."
According to the tentative agreement, the Penguins have pledged to contribute $1 million toward a neighborhood grocery store -- their only direct investment in the neighborhood outside the arena itself.
Representatives from the mayor's office could not be reached for comment by City Paper's press time, but councilwoman Tonya Payne announced at the press conference that the mayor's office was "very happy" to hear about the results of One Hill's vote.
"They were pleased that we reached an agreement," says Payne, who represents the Hill District. "This community used its voice to say what it wanted and needed, and that's true community empowerment."