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Plan for Lower Hill concert venue passes crucial step

Light shines on a parcel known as “Block E” in a much-debated section of the Lower Hill on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Pittsburgh. Decades after the Lower Hill was demolished to build the Civic Arena, plans to redevelop the former site into a music venue have some community members claiming that the Hill is not benefiting enough. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

The Planning Commission greenlit the Penguins and their development team to build on more of the former Civic Arena site, passing the contentious proposal to other agencies.

Eric Jankiewicz, PublicSource

People’s ability to objectively assess a situation is limited by their perspective, concluded LaShawn Burton-Faulk, as the City Planning Commission voted to approve development plans for the Lower Hill District despite ongoing community opposition.

Tuesday’s commission meeting concluded a series of sometimes contentious hearings over a developer’s application to build a live music venue with a small business incubator along with urban open space around Wylie Avenue between Fullerton and Logan Streets. Burton-Faulk, the commission’s vice chair, acknowledged tensions between the developer and some in the community, but noted her organization’s limited ability to address them. 

“The motion carries and this passes but I’m not excusing people yet. I want us to be careful that we are respectful with the community and the applicant,” Burton-Faulk said. “No party is a hundred percent accurate because it’s about perspective. It’s about fact versus perception.”

The commission’s approval of two items related to the development brings the Penguins-picked developer, Buccini/Pollin Group [BPG], one crucial step closer to redeveloping part of the former 28-acre Civic Arena. The developers will now be able to take their plans to the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] and the Sports & Exhibition Authority, which own parts of the site and could meet early next month.

If approved, the plan calls for a 4,600-seat entertainment venue operated by Live Nation, and a parking garage with 900 spaces. The developers estimate construction to total $110 million. BPG is also building the FNB Financial Center nearby.

Because the URA cleared homes, businesses and churches to make way for the Civic Arena in the 1950s, the Lower Hill’s redevelopment by the Penguins has spurred demands for Hill-wide benefits.

Acknowledging that history, Burton-Faulk urged everyone to “keep communicating.” Her urgings came at the end of an hours-long meeting that saw Hill District community members express skepticism at the developer’s commitment to include the surrounding neighborhood in the expected funds that will be generated by the completed project.  

The commission also approved changes to the site’s Preliminary Land Development Plan, which included amendments detailing the urban open space.

Several members of the public complained on Tuesday that the developers didn’t do enough to reach out to the community to share their building plans. Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation [Hill CDC], said that BPG had not fulfilled several promises to the community.

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