Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Development '07

While I was out buying carpet yesterday, as is my President's Day Tradition, I missed this story about the appointment of Pat Ford as development "Czar" for the City of Pittsburgh. Some thoughts after the quote:

Pittsburgh Planning Director Pat Ford will become the city's development czar, assigned to unify efforts to assist new construction and job creation, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday.

Mr. Ford's title will be director of economic and community development, and his role will shift from monitoring and regulating development to encouraging it.

"It's important to have a leader, or a point person, for individuals and developers to go to, to get the job done," said Mr. Ravenstahl. He said the city has to become "an advocate" rather than "an obstacle" to construction and jobs...

The mayor and Mr. Ford said they will try to streamline permitting processes, while preserving community input into large developments.

They said another priority will be coordinating the activities of city departments with the work of independent authorities that are involved in development, like the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the Housing Authority and the Parking Authority.
I'm not going to knock the creation (or re-creation) of this post, as the process to get approvals, permits, waivers, signoffs, legislation, and all the other details you need to do development in the City of Pittsburgh is a bit Byzantine...and that's coming from a Bureaucrat, mind you. The less often my colleagues have to retreat into their secret lair, don the Bureaucrats' garb, light the Bureaucrat Candles, and read from the Great Big Book of Bureaucratic Rules, only to tell the Public "No", the better. The ceremony is often days long and the secret Bureaucrat underwear chafes in a place only customs men dare to probe.

So, if someone can streamline, organize, or otherwise sort out the processes, that would be great.

In the different sense, however, this action is indicative of a broader initiative by the Ravenstahl Administration to bring Development to the top of its campaign agenda. You look at all the recent announcements in the media (lien buybacks, clean up initiatives, development announcements, tax breaks, coordinator position, etc.) and you start to see a pattern emerging. Clearly, if these initiatives go force it sends a message that the Mayor's top priority is to jumpstart development (and this is the important bit) before the May primary.

Why? Three reasons:

First, Community Based Organization and Community Development Corporations (CBOs & CDCs) ache to do development, partially because of their missions and partially because it impresses their funders. More importantly for the Mayor, however, CBOs and CDCs can provide the valuable legwork in making tangible "progress" in neighborhoods for which Luke can take credit. Grassroots (or near enough to grassroots) support is a good thing.

Second, Professional Developers have deep pockets. Luke doesn't have to directly offer these guys subsidies, but he has been able to lower their barriers to entry in the market...er... lower the investment needed to make a decent ROI. I'm sure that some of these developers will be grateful enough to offer some campaign contributions.

Third, the areas that Luke seems to be targeting are areas that Bob O'Connor carried strongly in 2005. Luke doesn't have the same fervorous support as the Peduto camp, so it will be necessary for him to make greater in-roads in the areas that should already be favoring him and bolster his base.

By combining all three approaches, Luke hopes to circumvent Peduto's powerbase in the East End and concentrate on raising capital and support in the North-South-West areas of the city.

Will it work?

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