Monday, March 19, 2007

Arena (Site) Development

We're living in an information age where news now becomes "old" within hours. Indeed, the Oh-my-God-the-Penguins-are-staying story has, in my opinion, pretty much played itself out, and we've now moved on to the sobering realization that the development of the new Arena is going to have some significant impacts for the City.

Well, OK, I've moved on, but that's only because I don't really care all that much for hockey.

But let's start off with a major concession against my own intellectual pursuits: for all of its faults and short comings, the deal is the deal; I'm not going to go into a deep analysis of what should or should not have happened and whether this is a good deal or not... at least not yet. Indeed, there are some big public finance issues (SEA bonds) and some question of the supposed populism of the project (how many Pens fans actually live within the City proper?). I'm going to set those aside so that we can focus instead on what is to come.

With that said, let me continue moving on: the development of the Arena site is going to be one of the biggest changes to the Hill District since the Crawford Square development in the 90s. While there will be only (relatively) minor site clearance for the Arena proper, certainly not on the same scale as the original construction of the Civic Arena, there will be significant development opportunities for the old arena site.

Big question: who decides what goes there?

I realize, of course, that this is looking down the road a bit as the Penguins aren't scheduled to occupy the new Arena until the 2009 season. However, in terms of real estate development, this is barely enough time to anything substantial, let alone plan something in a "culturally sensitive area."

Lord knows that with all the history to the site, including the failed redevelopment experiment, many people are going to want to have their say as to what eventually happens to the Lower Hill... and I'll bet anyone a million gazillion dollars that you're not going to have a consensus on what that is.

So who exactly is to say which groups do or do not have standing in this process and which groups would need to be satisfied to declare a "consensus" has been reached? Should it be the residents of the neighborhood(s)? The businesses in the neighborhood(s)? The residents of the City or the County? Self appointed arbiters of history and culture? Schizophrenic State legislators? Churches? City Council Persons? Community Development Organizations? Outside development organizations? Don Barden? The local Government? Mario?

Do any of these groups have the capacity and knowledge necessary to meet the needs of the Community (however you want to define that word)? And, if so, can they do it without descending into a community development clusterfuck?

Indeed, I think that it's interesting that the first major discussion about the future development of the Lower Hill site occurred between the members of the local clergy, community leaders, and the County Executive... and not community leaders and the Mayor. One can only speculate, by the way, why the Mayor didn't personally show up, or what signal that sends to community residents. If nothing else, it seems to indicate that Onorato will be arbitrating whatever fight is sure to transpire and that the City has, basically, given up control of that part of the Hill to the County

Anyway, my prediction is that the development of the Mellon Arena site will be less than smooth, fraught with public fights, political posturing, yelling, some blood, and very little real development.

What's the old saying about cooks and soup? I'm assuming that it applies to publicly funded sports venues too.


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