This week's city paper features a cover story about efforts to make the new Penguins arena more neighborhood friendly. Seems that activists are worried that the new hockey arena is going to screw them like the last one did.
For far too long, Feldt and others say, developers have held all the cards in inner-city redevelopment. They muscle lucrative subsidies from municipal officials with the promise of jobs and investment dollars. That money tends to end up in the pockets of developers rather than the surrounding community, which is often economically disadvantaged. Construction jobs pay well but don't last, and are often filled by out-of-town contractors. The jobs that remain are mostly low-wage positions in the service sector. The project's neighbors, meanwhile, bear the costs of displacement and increased traffic that developments often bring.
OK. But I just don't get it. Seems to me that if these projects never deliver what they promise, the best approach is not to get developers to promise more, but to stop doing these projects.
Look. Let's say a Chevy dealer talks me into buying a Corvette. But when I show up to get it, I actually end up with a broken-down old truck. And it happens again and again and again. (This is exactly what has happened with the redevelopment projects local governments have puchased from developers--they just don't perform as promised.)
So the next time I go to the dealer, should I just... insist that he throw in a towing package? No. I should stop buying vehicles from people who keep lying to me.
The problem with using a hockey arena to redevelop a neighborhood is that a hockey arena is a crappy way to redevelop a neighborhood.
Moreover, all these activists are doing is adding to the cost for developers. Which I guess is a good thing. Until the developers just start pricing it in to the public subsidies they demand. And what are the odds that local officials won't find a way to deliver the extra money? Practically nil, I'm afraid.
Last, even if these "concessions" end up making the arena a better deal for Hill District residents, what about the rest of us? What about the taxpayers living elsewhere who have pitched in for the convention center (and its new hotel) and PNC Park and Heinz Field and all the rest?
These projects don't deliver for ANYBODY except the developers. So here's an idea: How about we just stop paying for them in the first place?
Update: By the way, about 17,000 people live in the Hill District. So let's do some calculations. For the next 20 years, Don Barden is kicking in about $8 million a year for the arena. About another 7.5 million is coming from the slots fund. Which, as we now know, is not taxpayer money at all. If you believe arena supporters.
So about $15.5 million per year. At least. That just magically appeared.
Which means you could give each and every resident of the Hill District--every man woman and child--about $1,000 per year for the next 20 years. So a family of five would get $5,000 a year. For 20 years. Or... I don't know. What would that turn into in terms of spending per student in Hill District schools?
But come on. This is the government. What business do they have educating people when there's a hockey team to support?
I know., The response is, "But this money is for economic development. So nyah nyah nyah." Well, how did the last arena work out in terms of economic development?
So if you can make the case for THAT in terms of economic development, you can make the case for education or transit or anything else in terms of economic development.
As a matter of fact, I think you could make a better case for, literally, flushing the $15 million a year down the toilet. At least that would not actively destroy neighborhoods like the Civic Arena did.