Peduto says Penguins sale wouldn’t affect Hill District residents, development
The Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team could soon have new owners. Fenway Sports Group, the company that owns the Boston Red Sox and other franchises, is reportedly nearing a deal to purchase the team.
The sale has not been finalized. But some residents have voiced concerns that it could jeopardize the proposed redevelopment of part of the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill District — particularly the team’s commitments to equitable development.
At an ice rink ribbon-cutting event on Monday, Mayor Bill Peduto said a sale wouldn’t change the Penguins’ legal commitments to the Hill District community as the team redevelops the site of the former Civic Arena.
The team currently has contracts with the city of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Peduto said the team would still have to honor those agreements, even under new ownership.
“Any of those agreements really are not contingent on who owns the team. Those are agreements with the organization, no matter who the owners are,” he said. “The development rights, the lease agreement, and any other contract that is between government agencies and the Penguins are legally binding documents.”
Existing requirements, including investments in the Middle and Upper Hill, would remain in place in the event of a sale. The Hill District’s Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan, which was created to ensure that the development also benefits residents, would also still be in effect.
Peduto said that if either party was to challenge the contracts in the future, it would have to take the matter to court — but there could be penalties for attempting to break the agreement.
Peduto said he doesn’t think a sale would change much for Hill District residents, but Fenway Sports Group’s extensive monetary resources could speed up development in the Lower Hill.
“So if they’re able to do the development faster, it only means that more money will be spent in the Middle and Upper Hill faster,” he said, referencing the provision that requires each dollar invested at the 28-acre Lower Hill site to be matched with investments in the Middle and Upper Hill.
“That would help to see more development happening in the Middle and Upper Hill over the course of the next few years instead of the next, potentially, few decades.”
Earlier in the day, the Hill District itself saw at least a down payment on promises made to the community. The city held a ribbon-cutting at Frankie Mae Pace park, a new parklet that is the crown jewel for a "cap" intended to bridge a section of Interstate 579 that sundered the connection between the Hill and Downtown Pittsburgh.
Officials from Gov. Tom Wolf on down hailed the project, which the Penguins had supported, as an effort to correct historic injustices done to a neighborhood that suffered from urban renewal projects that included the highway and the since-demolished Civic Arena.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle said the project was "not just about a park" but "about the transformation of this entire region. ... This is going to benefit a lot of people here who waited a long, long time to see this injustice corrected."
That may be a lot to ask of a parklet. But Glenn Grayson, a community fixture who plans to run for the state House seat that will likely be vacated by Jake Wheatley next year, said that park — and the development leaders hope it will herald — can live up to those hopes "if we're intentional.”
“If we want to just play on the moment, it could be very staged,” said Grayson. “But as a community leader on several boards as well as a candidate for state rep, I will do everything in my power to make sure it's more than verbiage, but action."
Grayson, who sits on the Sports and Exhibition Authority board, said that as of Monday he had heard little more than "rumors" of a potential purchase by the Penguins. He said it was too soon to comment on what it might mean for the Hill or the wider region, but he said, "Regardless of what happens, I think the community is very vested in our wonderful city and its potential."
The Wall Street Journal, which first broke the story of the sale, reports it could be finalized soon.