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Heinz Endowments looks to smart urban planning for Pittsburgh moment

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, April 16, 2015, 10:42 p.m.
A view of Downtown Pittsburgh and the site of the former Civic Arena, bottom, are visible from the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District where the P4 conference is being held, Thursday, April 16, 2015.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
A view of Downtown Pittsburgh and the site of the former Civic Arena, bottom, are visible from the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District where the P4 conference is being held, Thursday, April 16, 2015.
Andre Heinz, co-founder and investment director of Sustainable Technologies Fund, addresses delegates at the P4 conference at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District on Thursday, April 15, 2015.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Andre Heinz, co-founder and investment director of Sustainable Technologies Fund, addresses delegates at the P4 conference at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District on Thursday, April 15, 2015.
Delegates hurry toward the conference center on the opening day of the P4 conference at the Energy Innovation Center, in the Hill District, Thursday, April 15, 2015
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Delegates hurry toward the conference center on the opening day of the P4 conference at the Energy Innovation Center, in the Hill District, Thursday, April 15, 2015

The Heinz Endowments is redirecting resources toward smart urban planning to seize upon an “amazing moment” in Pittsburgh's development, foundation president Grant Oliphant said Thursday.

A citywide building boom, an infusion of young professionals and heightened partnerships between foundation and civic officials are among factors jump-starting conversations about long-term planning strategies.

“Suddenly, in 2015, Pittsburgh is a place to be,” Oliphant said. “There is an energy in Pittsburgh around development that makes possible things that were really not possible to push forward 10 years ago.”

Oliphant's remarks emerge 18 months after a major personnel shakeup at The Heinz Endowments, Western Pennsylvania's second largest foundation with more than $1.5 billion in net assets. A string of executive departures in 2013 left the foundation without an executive director for eight months, amid an apparent clash between the Heinz family and departing staffers over the foundation's ties to an industry-backed environmental group.

“We're way beyond that,” said Oliphant, who left his post as CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation last April to become president of The Heinz Endowments in June. Oliphant had worked for The Endowments from 1993 to 2008.

“Foundations periodically hit a reset button in their thinking and pause to sort of think about where they're going,” Oliphant said. “I'm focused now on the future.”

A foundation focus will be promoting sustainability at a community level, which means managing development “without chewing up all of our resources, polluting the air, destroying our water resources, erasing our history and failing to take advantage of the new industries that are available to us,” Oliphant said.

Oliphant credits the Peduto administration with being “unusually open” to input from foundations. He said it's the first time he recalls having “two strong leaders who are both in sync” in Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Both meet regularly with the likes of Oliphant and heads of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation and others.

“It's not just that they're open when we come calling, but they're actually inviting us into conversations about the future of the city and the future of developments,” Oliphant said.

The partnership was evident Thursday during the inaugural P4 Pittsburgh conference, an event of mostly Scandinavian speakers that drew 300 attendees to the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District.

The event was born out of a conversation between Peduto and Andre Heinz, son of the late Sen. H. John Heinz and a board member for The Heinz Endowments. The two-day conference marked the start of an initiative dubbed “P4” — short for planet, people, place and performance, which are the metrics Peduto wants to guide urban-planning decision-making.

“This, to my mind, is a time when we should say, ‘Wait a second, here we are in the 21st century with a lot of change going on, what is our model?' ” Heinz said in his welcoming remarks. “How are we preparing ourselves for things that can be very disruptive to standard ways of thinking about how we live, whether it's transportation or energy or information infrastructure?”

The endowments' focus on sustainability has a social element. Oliphant pointed to the displacement of thousands of people when the city bulldozed large swaths of the Hill District in the 1950s to clear way for the former Civic Arena.

“There are social consequences to design,” he said.

The Heinz Endowments, a private family foundation based Downtown, has put money toward everything from renovating Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Downtown, to the design or construction of green buildings such as the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

It doled out more than $75 million in grants in 2014.

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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