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Roads surrounding the former Civic Arena site under construction since March 2015 opened to the public Friday, a first step in a broader $440 million effort to redevelop the heart of one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods.
“Wylie Avenue once again will connect right to Downtown,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “And if you go up it, there are so many properties — vacant lots that we own. We can use those vacant lots to create parks and be able to catch that rainwater and use it as a stormwater management system.”
The improvements advance the goal of reconnecting street and pedestrian access between Downtown and the Hill District.
Peduto joined some of Pennsylvania's most prominent politicians Friday morning to celebrate the completion of the Lower Hill Infrastructure Project, which included street reconstruction and improvements such as LED light posts, stormwater management planters, new trees and disabled-compliant crosswalks.
“Today we are going to open a portion of this development to the public,” Gov. Tom Wolf announced at a ceremony in the parking lot across from the Penguins' newly renamed PPG Paints Arena, flanked by officials including fellow Democrats Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Reps. Jake Wheatley of the Hill District and Jay Costa and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, both of Forest Hills.
“Future work on this site is expected to be completed in 2017, and this is exactly the kind of work the commonwealth should be investing in,” Wolf said.
“We're working to correct a mistake that is over 70 years old, and in the process, we're setting the table for really effective development in Pittsburgh.”
In the 1950s, development of the former Civic Arena led to the demolition of 1,300 buildings and displaced more than 8,000 residents and more than 400 businesses in the predominantly black Hill District. Today, it remains among the city's most impoverished neighborhoods.
The broader redevelopment of the 28-acre site will adhere to guidelines in an agreement between the Penguins and the city and driven by input from community groups. The agreement requires at least 20 percent of the first residential development be set aside for affordable housing, Peduto said.
“That's where we had some of the slowing down of development earlier this year,” said Peduto, “and now we're all back on the same page.”
Peduto noted the city pledged that half of any tax breaks pumped into the project go toward benefiting the mostly residential Lower and Middle Hill areas “to see that the wealth that's created here will actually create opportunity” for existing residents and businesses.
The piece completed Friday includes the construction of a new street — Fullerton — to connect Bedford Avenue to Centre Avenue, and a new stretch of Wylie Avenue that joins Fullerton to Crawford Street. The roads are wide enough to accommodate bikes as well as parking, Peduto said.
Next up: Building the new Logan Street to connect Bedford and Centre avenues, extending Wylie Avenue to Logan and a new intersection at Logan and Centre.
The two stages of street upgrades are being funded by $11.5 million in state redevelopment funding and $1 million from the Transportation Alternatives Program, Sports & Exhibition Authority spokeswoman Mary Conturo said.
The projects have not received additional city money, Peduto said.
Officials anticipate the infrastructure work will spur office, residential and retail development on the site, while generating money through a tax-abatement program for redevelopment projects elsewhere in the Hill and Uptown.
Plans for mixed-use development include 606,000 square feet of office space, 254,000 square feet of commercial space, a 150-room hotel, 2.8 acres of green space and 1,191 residential units. The authority said private partners are contributing more than $379 million.
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.