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URA's Civic Arena Plans Inspire 'Healthy Skepticism' In The Hill

Kevin Gavin
90.5 WESA
Hill District native Daniel Lavelle is the District 6 Councilman for the City of Pittsburgh.


On today's program: City Councilman Daniel Lavelle opines on the future of the Hill District; a Heinz Award recipient is pushing back on stereotypes of African Americans; questions remain about the future of the Tree of Life building; the debate over policing and LGBTQ protections is playing out in races for Allegheny County Council; and an investigation reveals state lawmakers are spending campaign dollars on things like DNA tests and expensive wine. 

Lavelle is optimistic about the future of the Hill
(00:00 — 12:30) 

Reaction from the Hill District community has been varied in the week since the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced a plan to repurpose the former Civic Arena site.

“I believe many are excited to see it finally beginning to move forward, but there's also healthy skepticism that it's actually going to occur as we've outlined,” says Lavelle, who also serves on the URA board.

The first phase of redevelopment includes construction of 288 residential units, of which up to 20% earmarked for affordable housing; as well as an underground parking facility, retail space and an entertainment complex above the garage. 

The plan is intended to help heal wounds from the 1950s when thousands of residents and businesses were displaced to make way for the Civic Arena. But when it comes to future commitments from the Penguins and their developers, Lavelle says his approach is “trust, but verify.”

“It’s one thing to say (it), it’s another thing to do it, and this is true of many developers,” he says. “They only go as far as you’re willing to push them, and we’re going to push as far as we can.”

Construction is expected to begin in spring 2020.

Outdoor Afro celebrates freedom in nature
(13:50 — 17:50)

Rue Mapp started Outdoor Afro 10 years ago as a blog to change the visual representation of who society imagines going outdoors to spend time in nature. The blog has since become a nationwide nonprofit, and Mapp was recently named the 2019 recipient of the Heinz Award for the Environment.  

The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke with Mapp and Kim Refosco, an Outdoor Afro leader in Pittsburgh.

What becomes of a sacred space after it’s been the scene of trauma?
(17:51 — 22:35) 

The Tree of Life building has been closed since a mass shooting killed 11 congregants last October, but there are plans to reopen after renovations.

Some remain concerned that small fixes where people were killed could cause congregants’ imaginations to run wild, recreating in their minds the scene from that deadly day. Others insist it’s time to go home. 

90.5 WESA’s Liz Reid reports on what other congregations have done in the aftermath of an attack on their houses of worship

Elections could swing County Council much further left
(22:39 — 27:06)

Allegheny County Council has been consumed by debates recently over police oversight and LGBTQ identity. So far, councilors have been tied down by ideological divisions, but contested elections in a few its 15 districts next month could move council more to the left.

90.5 WESA’s An-Li Herring reports Democrats Olivia Bennett and Bethany Hallam already defeated more conservative Democrats in the spring primary, and Democrats Tom Duerr and Christine Allen will have their chance in contested races against Republican Sue Means and Cindy Kirk. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

Investigation uncovers millions in untraceable campaign expenses
(27:09 — 39:12) 

Campaign dollars are supposed to be used for elections, but what qualifies as an expense is pretty vague. A year-long investigation by Spotlight PA and The Caucus revealed that from 2016 to 2018, candidates spent nearly $3.5 million without accounting for those costs. Mike Wereschagin, an investigative reporter with The Caucus, says most were listed on campaign finance documents as things like “travel,” “meals,” or “credit card,” without any further description. 

After some digging and back and forth with campaign offices that weren’t exactly forthcoming, Wereschagin and his colleagues found that the vague spending records were an issue across the political aisle. Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai used a credit card to buy more than $3,500 in gift cards, for which no other documentation was available. The campaign of Senate Minority Leader and Jay Costa, a Democrat, spent nearly $15,000 on partial season ticket packages to Pittsburgh Penguins games over three years. 

90.5 WESA’s Julia Zenkevich contributed to this report.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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