The Lower Hill, which is a part of the Greater Hill District, was a historic Black neighborhood and thriving business and cultural district that was condemned as a slum and demolished in the 1950s to build the Civic Arena and the Crosstown Expressway, which is now I-579.
African-Americans began arriving from the South between 1880 and 1910. During the years leading to World War I, African-Americans were urged to come by industry recruiters, who promised relief from the segregation laws of the South. New arrivals swelled the area and the Hill District became an ethnic and racial melting pot of Russians, Slovaks, Irish, Armenians, Syrians, Italians, Greeks, Poles, Chinese, and Jews. The races wove a rich and vibrant tapestry for Pittsburgh city life.
The ethnic diversity of the Hill District produced a bustling business community. Wylie and Bedford Avenues and Logan Street were lined with neighborhood stores. Their vibrancy lasted through the hard times of the Depression. It was during these difficult times that the Hill District became a place for music. The Hill District was one of the prime stops on the National Jazz Circuit with places like the Crawford Grill, Hurricane Lounge, Savoy Ballroom, and Musicians Club. Celebrities like Rudy Vallee and Paul Whiteman came to the Hill District after performing at Downtown theaters and clubs to hear and perform with African-American musicians. In the 1940s and '50s, the Hill District was brimming with interracial bars and clubs.
Although the Hill District continued to be a vibrant, politically active community, a deteriorating neighborhood infrastructure began to take place after World War II.
In September 1955, the federal government approved the Lower Hill Redevelopment Plan, making available $17.4 million in loans and grants. This project encompassed 100 acres, 1300 buildings, 413 businesses, and 8000 residents (many of them African-Americans) who were displaced to extend the revitalization of the adjacent Golden Triangle.
A cultural district known as the Center for the Arts was originally proposed to replace Lower Hill homes and businesses. The ambitious plan failed, as it was perceived as too far from the Downtown core. The construction of the Civic Arena (1961), although an engineering wonder, met with limited success, and was abandoned by the anchor organizations which originally were supposed to thrive under its dome.
The Hill's fortunes struck bottom during the riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. The riots began on April 5, 1968, and lasted until April 12. That week of rage saw 505 fires and extensive property damage.
Once a vibrant community, the Greater Hill District is a severely distressed neighborhood, due to systemic racism and redlining. By the definition of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund of the U.S Department of Treasury, the Greater Hill District has 20.8% unemployment, a median household income of $19,375 and 44.5% of its residents live below the poverty line. Of the property in the Middle and Upper Hill, 53% is vacant an only 31.4% of its residents own their home.
The Civic Arena was demolished in 2010 leaving 28 acres of prime Lower Hill real estate next to Downtown Pittsburgh. Since 2010 the development site served as a parking lot for downtown workers and PPG Paints Arena patrons.
The redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site in the Lower Hill District has the potential to transform the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and, in particular, the Downtown, Uptown, and Greater Hill District communities.
The Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh (SEA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) are the owners of the 28-acre development site and together the Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh are herein known as the Public Partners. Pittsburgh Arena Real Estate Redevelopment LP (PAR) has the development rights to the Development Site under a Comprehensive Option Agreement with the SEA and URA.
The Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP) is an agreement created to address many community concerns articulated by the residents and stakeholders of the Hill District community in the redevelopment of the Lower Hill District 28-acre site. The document reflects the following issues, as well as establishing an agreement to create the largest and most flexible tax increment finance (TIF) area in the history of Pittsburgh. The document was executed on September 11, 2014, by the Pittsburgh Penguins and was followed by the City, County, and Lower Hill Working Group (the Hill District's negotiating body).
CCIP has 7 focus areas:
- Minority & Women Business Inclusion
- Job Creation, Local Inclusion, & Workforce Development
- Inclusionary and Homeownership Housing Programs
- Communications Reporting and Tracking
- Wealth Building Initiatives
- Cultural & Community Legacy Initiatives
- Coordinated Community Develop
Oversight and implementation of the CCIP is the responsibility of the Executive Management Committee (EMC), a nine-person committee with three co-chairs. The Project Administrator Community Engagement is responsible for ensuring that developers are following specific provisions of the Lower Hill Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan (CCIP).
During these challenging times of COVID, the EMC board is working diligently with all Lower Hill stakeholders and the community to achieve the goals of the CCIP. At this time, best efforts have not been demonstrated. Here are some of the EMC challenges.
Previous Public Agency Meetings
SEA BOARD MEETING
May 14, 2020
SEA Board unanimously approved beginning the transfer of ownership of Block G1 to PAR (Penguins) subject to URA approval and that the developer, URA, EMC, and the Hill District Development Review Panel ("DRP") give their best efforts to reach a formal agreement that effectuates the CCIP and Greater Hill District Master Plan. To watch the SEA Board Meeting on our Facebook at www.facebook.com/myhilldistrict/videos/1107667679608404/.
URA BOARD MEETING
May 14, 2020
Thanks to Councilman Daniel Lavelle's leadership in partnership with the community, ALL Lower Hill agenda items were tabled because of clear concern expressed by many residents and public commenters. The Board agreed to schedule a Special Board Meeting in less than TWO weeks to vote on beginning to transfer ownership of Block G1 to PAR (Penguins) and their development teams. Until the URA does this there is no SEA approval. To watch a Facebook Live stream of the URA's Board Meeting where you will hear public comment read at the very beginning of the meeting and the deliberations of the Board visit https://www.facebook.com/urapgh/videos/884930911974163/.
URA SPECIAL BOARD MEETING
May 21, 2020
The URA Board voted in PAR (Penguins) favor for the preliminary takedown of Block G1. Under the suggestion of Councilman Lavelle, URA created three new resolutions (No. 176, 177, 178) (P.7) which PAR needs to fulfill in order to take possession of Block G1.