Three cheers to the Post-Gazette and Bill Toland for this captivating piece on the nature of subsidized development. I agree with a lot of it. Disagree with some of it. But that is as it should be. Check it out for yourself. It's well done.
The only thing I will initially critique is this:
"Focusing in on your Downtown is critical for any region, especially the Pittsburgh region," said Patty Burk, vice president of housing and development for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. "I think our core has been neglected for many years ... It's the best it's been in 20 years, but that doesn't mean it's up to market rate."
And when a core has been neglected, often the only way to encourage development is to take the risk out of big projects. That's especially true in older cities, where office leases and apartment rental prices are low, but construction costs are still high. Subsidies and credits for Millcraft, for example, means there's a better chance that the company will turn a profit on its Fifth and Forbes improvement project.
Our core has been neglected for many years? How many? And neglected in what sense? My gosh, Pittsburgh has been the poster child for "revitalization" for 60 years. Google "David L. Lawrence" and "Richard King Mellon" and see for yourself. Seriously.
Is that a little long in the tooth for you? Fine. Drive downtown once. What's that huge yellow thing? Locals refer to it as "Heinz Field." Then there is a little thing known as "PNC Park." A convention center. Across the river you'll see South Side Works.
Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Good grief. You can say a lot of things about what downtown Pittsburgh needs and doesn't need. But to base your analysis on an historic "neglect" of the "core" in terms of subsidies seems to fly in the face of reality.
Well, OK. One more point:
These observations come to the fore because Pittsburgh, after years of relative inactivity Downtown, is in the midst of what is undeniably a construction boom, with new office towers, condos, Market Square apartments and possibly a new arena under way or on the drawing board. And it's also undeniable that the boom is being propped up by tens of millions in state and local subsidies.
Could you argue that "tens of millions" understates the case? Do the stadiums count? I know they went up a few years ago. And they are across the river. But people often point to them when referring to Pittsburgh's downtown "vibrancy." Throw in all the TIFs. Throw in the subsidies and other support for the existing infrastructure down there (including all the projects from Renaissance I, II, and the rest of it) and I think you are talking hundreds of millions. At least you have to address the fact that all that spending resulted in "years of relative inactivity." Remember, we spent all those hundreds of millions of dollars because someone promised that it would deliver activity. It didn't.
Again, I understand that Toland is referring more to the construction cranes that are currently operating on new projects. But if you are going to talk about the "core" being historically "neglected"...