Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lower Hill music venue, parking garage gets the Planning Commission's seal of approval

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The live music venue and parking garage are the latest Lower Hill projects to win the Planning Commission's approval.

The City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission has approved the Penguins’ bid to build a $110 million concert venue and parking garage in the Lower Hill District.

The parcel on which the properties will be located — known as Block E — is part of a 28-acre site owned by the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Sports and Exhibition Authority.

During its meeting Tuesday night, the planning commission approved final plans for Block E.

The music venue is slated to hold 4,500 people, alongside the 910-space parking garage.

A $2 surcharge on each ticket sold for Live Nation events at the venue will be diverted to the Greater Hill District Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund.

“The next phase of this Lower Hill project will continue our commitment to deliver to Pittsburgh the most important community reinvestment and equitable development in the United States,” said Chris Buccini, president of the real estate development firm Buccini Pollin Group.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

The planning commission also voted to accept several updates to the larger site’s overall design, including reconfiguration of green spaces, closing off streets and transit and pedestrian improvements.

Commissioners delayed voting on the plans at its Jan. 10 meeting due to “a trust issue” between residents and the developers. In an effort to address that and move the project forward, the developers held a virtual forum open to the public last week.

But even with the city planning commission’s support, the project continued to prove divisive among Hill District residents speaking out at the meeting.

According to the Hill Community Development Corporation, the Pens’ developers disregarded its two-step review process: First, representatives from nine community organizations — the Development Review Panel — determine if a proposed project aligns with the neighborhood’s Master Plan. Then, it is brought to the broader community for a vote.

Chavaysha Chaney, policy and programs associate at the Hill CDC, said developers completed the first step for Block E approval in February 2020, scoring a “B” on its initial review. But the developers opted to delay the second step due to the pandemic, Chaney said.

Last July, the developers were invited to present to the panel and asked to resubmit their application due to extensive changes to the application during the two years that had passed.

Chaney said the developers have refused to resubmit an application. But Craig Dunham, senior vice president of development for the Pittsburgh Penguins, denied that. Dunham says developers submitted amendments promptly and have repeatedly asked for another time to meet.

“But if the [Development Review Panel] is prepared to give us an audience to talk through the plan, we’re more than happy to meet and discuss that,” Dunham said.

He said the developers have also met with other Registered Community Organizations (RCO) in the area, whose representatives said Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment LP and Buccini Pollin Group have excelled in their communication with residents.

The Hill District has three RCOs, according to the city’s Planning Department.

The Hill CDC first registered as an RCO in 2019. It was only in March 2022 that the Hill District Consensus Group — also a member of the CDC’s nine-organization review panel — and the Hill District Collaborative were approved as RCOs, each within a day of the other.

“The Hill District Collaborative came online because there was very grave concern about the openness and transparency of the DRP process,” said Bonnie Young, a member of the Hill District Collaborative’s board. “It’s also the reason that the [Hill District] Consensus Group actually began to engage in their own development review.”

The Planning Commission doesn’t make determinations about RCO processes, nor can it enforce them. But chair Christine Mondor urged developers to respect the procedures in place.

“There's a lot of stuff that you're asking us to mediate here that we're not in a position to mediate,” she said, “And this just has to happen before it comes to us. We have to have some degree of clarity before it comes to us.”

Mondor said the same goes for the Lower Hill Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP), which outlines community reinvestment goals to ensure the Greater Hill District. The developers must comply with the objectives outlined in the plan, and the Planning Commission will push them to do so. But ultimately, the board does not have the tools needed for enforcement, Mondor said.

“We strongly encourage that the parties that can negotiate in these areas do so, but at this time it is not in the planning commissions purview to enforce or push those things with the concrete nature that is being asked for by some,” Mondor said.

The Planning Commission requires the developers to issue updated reports on its CCIP progress any time they add a new project to the site. Dunham said developers will also begin to hold quarterly meetings with community groups to maintain channels of communication.

Up next: the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will vote on the project.

Updated: January 28, 2023 at 10:57 AM EST
This story has been updated to include the first name and title of Chris Buccini of Buccini Pollin Group and to clarify the name of the Development Review Panel.
Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.