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After Years Of Negotiation, Officials Break Ground On The Lower Hill

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
The Pittsburgh Penguins and their development partners were joined by community stakeholders and public officials at Wednesday’s ceremony.

Development began on Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill Wednesday afternoon, nearly 15 years after state and local officialssigned over exclusive rights to the land in a bid to keep the city's NHL team in town. Several speakers at the ceremony joked about years of acrimonious negotiations, but lauded the efforts of all involved to reinvigorate a site that has sat largely empty for more than 60 years.

Nearly everyone who took a turn at the podium described the first project — a 26-story office tower anchored by First National Bank for which ground was broken Wednesday — as “transformative.”

But Diamonte Walker, deputy director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority and a resident of the Hill District, said the transformation could take one of two forms.

“It can be done with the community’s interests in mind, or it can be done at the interest of business and development, and we’ve already seen that story,” she said.

In the 1950s, city officials decided to raze 100 acres of the Lower Hill to make way for a cultural district that mostly failed to materialize. Walker reminded attendees of the residents and businesses who were displaced during that period of “urban renewal,” and said those with power today must “convert the pain of those 8,000 residents into promise.”

City Councilor Daniel Lavelle, whose district includes the Hill, said his focus from the very start has been to use the development “to economically restore not just the Hill District, but the Black community on the whole, and the city of Pittsburgh on the whole.”

Amachie Ackah’s firm, Clay Cove Capital, is the site’s majority investor. He said he and the lead developer for most of the site, Buccini Pollin Group, didn’t come to the Hill just to build buildings.

“We have a community to mend, we have lives to enhance, and we have futures to brighten,” he said, adding that they are committed to Pittsburgh, and to the Hill, for the long term.

When state Representative Jake Wheatley addressed the development team, he welcomed them to the family. But he also urged them to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“We show our love by aggressively disagreeing,” he said. “So when you talk about having real opportunities on this site, guess what, we’re going to hold you to that.”

However, Marimba Milliones, head of the Hill Community Development Corporation, said despite those many years of negotiation, community benefits such as hiring commitments after construction wraps remain ill-defined.

“Which really leaves the burden of responsibility on the community to continue to advocate, as opposed to just having a shared understanding of what’s going to happen,” she said.

The tower, anchored by First National Bank, is expected to open in two and a half years. Penguins CEO David Morehouse said the development team continues to work with LiveNation on plans for a music venue and parking garage.