ShareThis Page

State delays decisions on redevelopment grants

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 11:26 p.m.

A glut of grant requests and the governor's vow to base awards on merit rather than politics are delaying $125 million in redevelopment aid to municipalities statewide.

State Budget Office officials are scrutinizing $765 million worth of requests in 175 applications from groups in 39 counties.

They include $115 million in requests originating in Allegheny County that could play a part in building a 33-story Downtown office tower, preparing the Lower Hill District for development on the former Civic Arena site and helping to restore a historic Mt. Lebanon movie theater.

“It's like there's one job opening and 8,000 people applied,” budget office spokesman Jay Pagni said. “Our goal is to fund those projects that make the most sense and meet the requirements under the new guidelines.”

The state planned to announce awards for the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program by November. Pagni could not estimate how much longer the wait will be. He said a combination of the “overwhelming response” and greater scrutiny means it is taking longer than anticipated.

Gov. Tom Corbett's administration is evaluating applications with a point system based on the number of jobs each project could produce, how soon work could begin and whether the project would improve a blighted or economically depressed area, among other factors.

Corbett, a Republican, set a $125 million cap to reduce the state's borrowing for the program, a move Democrats said could hurt the program's performance.

Projects that receive money from the program must provide a match, Pagni said.

“This is taxpayer money, and we want to ensure that the projects that have the most economic impact, are the most shovel ready and will create jobs ... get funded,” Pagni said. “The governor recognizes that these projects are very important for local municipalities.”

Missing out on the redevelopment funding typically doesn't scuttle a project, organizers said, but it could cause delays.

“People don't structure their development projects with a cliff at the end of it; they know it takes time to acquire funding,” said Paul Svoboda, special projects manager at the Urban Redevelopment Authority. “You give yourself options and breathing room.”

Svoboda said Corbett's promise to scrutinize projects' merits raises the stakes.

“I think he knows that he has to make sure all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted before this goes out. I don't blame him one bit,” Svoboda said.

Penny Richichi, co-executive director of the Denis Theatre Foundation in Mt. Lebanon, said a grant would be a crucial part of foundation efforts to raise money to turn the Denis into a three-screen, independent movie theater. The Denis opened in 1938. The foundation requested $2 million from the state.

In Pittsburgh, the URA seeks $30 million in redevelopment assistance for eight projects. The largest, a $15 million application, is earmarked for the 350 Fifth Ave. redevelopment project that Oxford Development Co. announced in May. Oxford seeks an anchor tenant to occupy part of a proposed $238 million, 33-story office tower on Smithfield Street, where it owns a six-story building between Fifth and Forbes avenues that would be razed.

If Oxford doesn't find an anchor tenant, it could undertake a $40 million renovation of its building.

The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority seeks $15 million to pay for initial utility lines and storm sewers beneath 28 acres on the former Civic Arena site. A second phase would build a street grid to prepare for the office, residential and retail development the Pittsburgh Penguins plan.

Mary Conturo, the SEA's executive director, said she knows simply that redevelopment funding is delayed.

“They haven't told us ‘yes' or ‘no.' They just haven't told us anything,” she said.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.