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Penguins Plan to Build 935 Residential Units at Former Civic Arena Site

The Penguins expect to break ground in November on the first batch of 935 residential units at the former Civic Arena site — a 28-acre tract the team has been working to develop for a decade.

“It’s incumbent on all of us, though, to deliver on that plan,” Penguins Chief Operating Officer Travis Williams told several dozen community members, trade workers and business owners Wednesday night. He spoke at a public meeting at the Jeron X. Grayson Center in Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill District neighborhood.

The franchise has signed an option agreement pledging to comply with a final set of conditions requested by Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority last month, Williams said.

Wednesday marked the first in a series of public meetings to share more details about project designs, recruit locally based trade workers and collect community input during the last leg of planning.

As construction advances, “it’s important that the Penguins re-engage the community on the specifics of the plan,” said Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill District Community Development Corp.

Her group has worked to ensure developers take into account the needs and input of local residents, and to prioritize issues such as affordable housing and job opportunities for local residents and minority workers and business owners.

MINORITY-OWNED FIRM UNVEILED

Though St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar is the project’s primary housing developer, at least 250 units must be developed by a minority-owned company under agreed-upon terms.

On Wednesday, Williams identified the minority-owned company the Penguins has selected: Intergen Real Estate Group, made up of a trio of longtime friends who teamed up specifically for the project.

Intergen team leader Keith B. Key, 50, of KBK Enterprises — which has done more than $1 billion in development citywide as well as around the country — said he joined with partners Bomani Howze, 40, and Bob Agbede, 60, to help rebuild and revitalize the place where they grew up.

“This is home for me. I’m glad that the community wanted to see a minority developer involved in some way, shape or form, and I know that we had the wherewithal to do it,” Key said. “I wanted to make sure that we didn’t sit on the sideline — that we really got involved in and became part of something that was meaningful to all of the people in the Hill who have a history with the Civic Arena and its previous existence.”

To make way for the Civic Arena, which opened in 1961, large swaths of the Hill District were demolished and more than 8,000 residents and 400 businesses were forced out of the historically black neighborhood.

“A lot of people were displaced — family members, grandparents and so forth — so now is a chance for us to be part of building something that we were a part of having to evacuate,” Key said.
HOUSING PLANS DETAILED

The first phase of residential construction in the Lower Hill will include 54 “affordable” units at the corner of Crawford Street and Wylie Avenue.

They will be adjacent to 201 market-rate units in a rectangular block along Crawford stretching to Centre Avenue, design renderings presented Wednesday show.

The second phase — to be developed by Intergen — includes 250 mixed-income residential units and community open space.

Another 450 units will follow in the third through fifth phases.

Prospective tenants can choose from one-bedroom units at 612 square feet, two-bedroom units at 928 square feet and three-bedroom units at 1,164 square feet, each with its own washer and dryer.

Under terms previously disclosed, the Penguins must develop 6.45 acres by 2020 and 10.75 acres by 2023 or face losing 30 percent of the parking revenue from lots that cover most of the property.

The Penguins won the rights to develop the site in 2007, but demolition work on the Civic Arena was not completed until late March 2012.

The Penguins have since grappled with challenges in negotiating with city and community leaders and securing an anchor tenant.

In late October, Mayor Bill Peduto vowed the city would reclaim part of the 28-acre tract if the owners miss another development deadline.

“Folks have been waiting for many years to hear the specifics of housing, retail and commercial development on the Lower Hill District,” Milliones said. “It’s going to be very important for them to share as much detail as possible about the timeline and the overall vision that they have been crafting.”

Among new conditions sought by the URA, the team will lose 40 percent of parking revenue for missing deadlines. URA board members also removed a clause from the agreement that permits the team to miss the 2023 deadline without penalty if Hill District-based community groups protest and cause a development delay.

The agreement eliminated a $15 million credit available for the Penguins to purchase the 28 acres.

The Penguins will get the parcels for free.

A final condition requested by the URA requires the city to divert 10 percent of parking revenue on a proposed parking garage to a fund for other development in the Hill District.

Williams said he and his partners agreed to each additional stipulation.

URA PASSES PLAN, 3-2

The city-county Sports and Exhibition Authority, which shares ownership of the 28-acre property, approved the deal shortly before the URA did so on a 3-2 vote.

URA board members Jim Ferlo of Highland Park and R. Daniel Lavelle of the Hill District, who also serves on Pittsburgh City Council, voted against the deal, with Ferlo suggesting the URA pay the Penguins $15 million for the property since he still doesn’t “think the Penguins are capable of developing this site.”

The Penguins and their partners plan to solicit bids for phase one next September, start construction in November and complete the first 255 housing units by November 2020. They will host two more public planning meetings in January and in February.