Sunday, April 8, 2007

Hill District Shake-Down Surprises Local Officials

Mayor Left Nearly Speechless
Will Other Communities Follow Suit?

Still beleaguered from the Penguins arena shake-down ordeal, city leaders were quite dismayed to find it happening once again. This time, however, it was Hill District leaders with their own list of demands wanting a piece of the savory pie that had just been handed over to the Pens.

Their list of demands, enumerated in a "term sheet", was quite extensive: An upfront "payment" of $10 million, yearly payments (amounts yet to be specified) for the next 30 years, and an in-perpetuity cut of future revenues from the new arena and surrounding development. The neighborhood would be given, free-and-clear, any city-owned or county-owned land it wanted to develop. And thirty percent of all arena jobs, from unskilled to executive level, would go to "minorities of color". It is not yet clear whether Asians, Middle Easterners or Native Americans could qualify as "minorities of color" under the job quota proviso or whether unemployed Caucasians living in the Hill District would be eligible for the new jobs. Also unclear is whether or not the new hiring scheme has been discussed with local area unions.

Mayor Ravenstahl, County Exectutive Onorato and Councilwoman Payne were clearly put off by the ambush. Mr. Onorato had no comment but Ms. Payne, the most obviously incensed of the group, complained that the Hill residents seem to feel they are "entitled". "You can't walk in to talks that way", she chided. After regaining his composure, Mr. Ravenstahl was quick to interject that he was very much looking forward to moving forward with a fresh and forward-thinking approach to this matter. At least that's what he intended.

The unspoken worry on Grant Street, however, is whether or not other neighborhoods will follow suit. The Hill has the biggest burden to carry because the massive arena development is being plopped squarely in their midst. In that regard it seems only fair that the Hill appropriate the largest portion of the shake-down funds for themselves. But since there is $290 million of public money being funneled into the arena, will other segments of the "public" think they are entitled to a cut as well? Will Southsiders, long denied their fair share of city parking spaces, now demand new garages be built along Carson in a 10-to-1, bar-to-garage ratio? Will every neighborhood with pot holes comprising more than 40% of their street surface area be standing in line with their hand held out?

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The precedent being set here has far-reaching implications for a city that has nothing, needs everything and has no money to pay for anything. Will this tactic be mimicked by others desperate to have their needs met? Will communities hosting the proposed Mon-Fayette Expressway, for instance, now demand a cut of all business and new development revenues spurred by the new highway?

A lot of questions and very few answers to a situation that seems to change by the hour. But our city leaders have proven themselves to be a formidable negotiating team. We can fully expect them to bargain as tough with the Hill as they did with the Pens. What more can we ask?


Judge Rufus Peckham said...

Carbolic Smoke Ball is working on this late-breaking news: The Hill District is threatening to move to Kansas City if it is not granted the concessions you've chronicled here.

Char said...

We all count on you for the breaking news, Judge.