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A rendering of the new U.S. Steel office building planned for the site of the former Civic Arena in the Hill District.

By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Penguins scored a key off-ice victory Tuesday, securing approval from the city planning commission on a development blueprint for the former Civic Arena property and related zoning change.

Approval came eight days after the announcement that U.S. Steel will build a new headquarters on the 28-acre lower Hill District site on a parcel across from Consol Energy Center.

Also Tuesday, the commission received details from the Steelers on plans, some two years in the making, to add 2,390 seats to the south end zone at Heinz Field in time for next football season.

In a 4-0 vote, commission members approved the Penguins’ preliminary land development plan for the publicly owned site, one that will serve as a guide for redeveloping the land, after more than an hour of discussion. They also recommended a zoning change to a specially planned district that now goes before city council for approval.

“It’s a great day for the development,” said Travis Williams, the Penguins’ chief operating officer. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point.”

Approval came with conditions, the most notable one being that final land development submissions must include a “statement of affirmation” from developers endorsing a community collaboration and implementation plan, or CCIP, put together as part of the development.

That agreement, reached by the Penguins, local politicians and Hill leaders in September, sets standards for levels of affordable housing, minority and women’s business participation, and other matters.

The commission also required residential developers to submit an affordable housing plan showing that “reasonable efforts” had been made to conform to the CCIP goal of having 20 percent of the 1,100 units to be built priced low enough to be in the reach of lower-income residents.

It also mandated the Penguins and developers hold design charrettes or other public meetings with Hill residents before submitting final plans for specific developments on the site.

The conditions fell short of demands by some Hill leaders that the commission take a more active role in policing the agreement. Marimba Milliones, Hill Community Development Corp. CEO, said the commission’s decision was a “step toward that,” adding leaders can press council for further assurances.

Nonetheless, Ms. Milliones was disappointed in the commission’s vote, saying issues such as building heights were not discussed at all.

She also said commission members seemed to be “confused” about potential interaction between preliminary development plans and a bill pending before council regarding affordable housing levels and other benefits in specially planned districts involving public subsidies or land.

“I think it was very risky for them to have taken a vote today, because they clearly had unanswered questions and there was a lack of guidance in getting the legal counsel and the perspective they needed to make an informed decision,” she said.

The Penguins also objected to a condition requiring them to adhere to the proposed ordinance in its current or any amended form.

Team attorney Dusty Elias Kirk said that could put the team in the “untenable position” of accepting provisions that have yet to be drafted, let alone enacted. In the end, the commission added a clause preserving the Penguins’ appeal rights regarding the bill.

With Tuesday’s approval, the team hopes to be in position to submit final plans for the five-story, 268,000-square-foot U.S. Steel development early next year and for the first housing in the first or second quarter.

The two-tier Heinz Field expansion, meanwhile, will include 1,553 general admission seats, 837 premium seats and five suites.

As part of the project, a new plaza level will be created just below the existing Heinz Field scoreboard, and additional restrooms and concessions will be added in support of the expansion.

Heidi Edwards, project manager for Heinz Field, said the team hopes to get commission approval in two weeks so that construction can start in early to mid-January. The Steelers will cover the cost of the $34.5 million project through ticket revenue and sale of personal seat licenses.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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Date Published: 
Wednesday, December 3, 2014 | 412-765-1820 |

Serving the Greater Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA