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Planning Commission prepares to weigh in on the next Lower Hill project

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA

On Tuesday, members of Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission got their first glimpse of plans for the next phase of development on the Lower Hill. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ development arm, Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment, and their development team, led by the Buccini Pollin Group, hope to move forward on an entertainment venue and parking garage.

Buccini Pollin co-president Chris Buccini said the music venue project will build on the momentum of the First National Bank tower. He described the project as “an infrastructure and economic development project that sustains the reinvestment in the Hill district.”

On the 2.5-acre site, Block E, the developers plan an indoor venue of about 95,000 square feet with commercial space and an incubator for small businesses. Next to the venue they propose to build 910 parking spaces in a six-story garage that will also have some commercial space as well as a public safety station.

The proposal is a significant departure from the project originally announced in 2020.

At that time, the developers imagined a large outdoor amphitheater in addition to the indoor venue with lots of commercial space, the public safety station, and incubator. The project was intended to be the first to break ground on the Lower Hill, but the coronavirus pandemic, and ensuing devastation of the live events industry, upended that plan almost before it began the formal approval process.

In the intervening two years, the developers cut the outdoor space due to noise concerns. And given the new economic conditions, they say, it doesn’t make sense to build an underground garage.

On Tuesday, Buccini told the Planning Commission that the development team is spending a “significant amount of time, money and resources to not just deliver a parking facility, but one with an elevated design and one that speaks to the history of this site.”

While the departure from the initial plan drew concern from the board of Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority last month, members of the Planning Commission did not discuss it Tuesday. Instead, they focused on details such as the buildings’ designs and materials, the pedestrian experience, and street trees.

The presentation was just a briefing for commission members, and so there was no public comment. The developers expect to appear before the commission for a vote on the music venue in January, when community members will be able to weigh in.

In addition to plans for Block E, the developers also hope to make changes to their overall plan for the 28-acre Lower Hill site. They are requesting amendments to the preliminary land development plan that would change how the streets operate, and they also want to relocate, and increase, open spaces across the development.

Planning Commission will vote on those proposals in January as well.