Friday, May 4, 2007

Casinarena and Community Coalitions: Pt. II

Onorendellburklestahl, Inc. tried to wash their hands of a community benefits agreement with concerned Pittsburgh residents of the Hill District. Ervin Dyer reported yesterday in the PG, "Family meeting aim is to unite Hill neighbors". This meeting was characterized as a 'family' meeting in one sense because it was aimed to unify the voice of various fraction 'coalition' groups that have popped up to secure community benefits for the Hill District out of the arena deal. I was very happy to hear that this was the aim of the meeting since, in a previous post, I was concerned that opportunists like Payne and Robinson, who seemed to be vying to represent the Hill to score political points, and other coalitions, such as those made up of concerned Hill and non-Hill residents and Milliones/Developer's, would do Onorendellburklestahl, Inc. a favor. The favor would be creating the public perception that the Hill can't unite in one voice about what needs to happen. Therefore, they could operate with the old British tactic of divide and conquer and get away with whatever is in their interest.

Backtrack to before the arena contract was formalized. An original coalition from the Hill, of concerned Hill District residents and community leaders including Rev. Johnnie Monroe, had in fact organized and approached Onorendellburklestahl, Inc. and began discussions about their concerns and pressed for some kind of community benefits agreement. After some time they were told not to worry and lay off the pressure so the deal could get finalized. They were assured a community benefits would be worked into the package. Alas, this was not the case. A clear community benefits arrangement was not secured in the contract and, rightfully, this original coalition was alarmed. The Allegheny Institute's analysis of the contract pointed out how the Penguins will retain all profits from all events in the new arena, hockey events or concerts. Not only was the Hill District shafted, the public, generally, was shafted.

Several things did not make it into Dyer's report on this meeting held on Wed night at Weil elementary. One is that Wheatley specifically addressed the large energetic crowd in the auditorium and asked representatives of the Hill in public office to come up to the front of the room. Robinson was there early but left by the time Wheatley spoke. Payne was not there but sent a representative. Some speculation (not discussed at the meeting) about why Payne was not present is that she is too aligned with the Penguins. Ferlo sent a rep. Other public officials representing the Hill were not present. Onorato and Ravenstahl were not present. Wheatley was sincere and eloquent in encouraging the crowd to avoid publicly condescending their representatives, which is warranted, and work toward coming up with a unified plan for a community benefits agreement.

Another is that the folks in the room are very concerned, very motivated, and very determined in preventing another catastrophic 'development' in the lower Hill. The mindset that contributed to the original 'development' in the Hill is captured in a statement in 1943 by George Evans, a member of city council.

"approximately 90 percent of the buildings in the area are sub-standard, and have long outlived their usefulness, and so there would be no social loss if these were all destroyed."
If the original coalition had not started to organize prior to the current arena deal this mindset, very much alive but perhaps unconscious among Onorendellburklestahl, Inc., would have helped to repeat the same mistakes of the fifties.

I also must retract my previous suspicions of Milliones' motives. After her presentation Wed night I am convinced that she is operating with sincere intentions and is of the right philosophy on community development.

If this broader coalition is successful, and I believe it will be, Onorendellburklestahl, Inc. will hear a unified position on a demand for a community benefits from the arena deal. There will be no operative argument, "Oh, the Hill doesn't know what it wants and we don't want to prefer one group's demands over another", and then drop the issue or throw a bone their way. They will have to satisfy the demands of the group. If they don't, this issue will fester and grow. If they don't..... well, fuck that.

After the broken promises of 'urban renewal' and the original civic arena, after Heinz feild and PNC park, this coalition is serving the public interest in amplifying the concerns of citizens as stakeholders in 'development'.

Future meetings will be held on Wednesdays at 6pm at Weil Elementary at 2250 Centre Ave.