Chris Rosselot: Getting North Side redevelopment right
Bob Bauder’s article “Strip District development will push into the North Side, officials say” (July 5, TribLIVE) brings attention to redevelopment opportunities on the North Side, specifically along the banks of the Allegheny River and the area surrounding the old Heinz plant. The article serves as a reminder that North Side residents need to make sure the city, along with its government partners, get this development right.
According to the article, the Peduto administration, along with county and state economic development officials, are having conversations with the land owner, Buncher Corp., on infrastructure improvements for the site. Count on public funds going toward these improvements, similar to the Buncher site across the river in the Strip District.
Before city and county officials start lobbying for state and/or federal dollars, it’s essential that all stakeholders come to the table to make sure equitable development needs are met in the planning stages-before it turns into another high end, exclusive development.
First, if there is a for-sale housing component to the development, it should be a mixture of market-rate and affordable. Specifically, a certain percentage of housing units within the development should include housing dedicated to working people and retirees — including nonprofit professionals, entry-level tech entrepreneurs, public-service employees and first-time homebuyers who are looking to purchase a home in the city.
Additionally, the development area has a rich industrial and manufacturing tradition. The Riverbend plant (the old Heinz plant) currently owned by an out-of-town private equity firm, recently announced the layoff of 400 plant workers. Most of the positions are good-paying, union and family-sustaining jobs. Organized labor must have a seat at the table when it comes to the redevelopment of the area. In addition to union construction jobs, labor pension funds could possibly be used to help finance the construction of the development and would bring investment benefits for union members.
There is an increase in demand for tech and office space overflowing from the increasingly expensive Strip District, and there is also an increase in demand for light industrial and manufacturing space. The North Side Buncher site would be a good fit for the development of affordable maker space, as well as an opportunity for designated opportunity zone for black- and minority owned businesses in the manufacturing sector. A natural partner for this would be the Riverside Center for Innovation located on River Avenue in the North Side.
Lastly, this redevelopment presents an opportunity to connect the adjoining neighborhoods — Spring Garden, Deutschtown and Troy Hill. Many residents, businesses and homeowners from these neighborhoods will directly benefit from a well-planned connection to the development site. Issues like traffic flow, rezoning efforts and mobility accessibility need to be worked out. It is my hope that representatives from each neighborhood will have a seat at the table when it comes to planning the connection of the corridors from the development site toward major arteries like Chestnut Street, Madision Avenue, Spring Garden and East Ohio Street.
All of these measures can be obtainable with community input early in the pre-development process — which is right now. Comprehensive community input, negotiating community benefit agreements and memorandums of understanding all take time and resources for both sides of the table. However, it will be worth it in the long run, particularly if valuable public subsidies go into a project like this. We need to make sure the development is as equitable as possible and hold our political representatives accountable.