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URA wants $3M in TIF funds for future projects

| Wednesday, March 12, 2003, 12:00 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority wants $3 million in future property tax revenue to build parking garages and improve roads and other infrastructure in the North Shore between Heinz Field and PNC Park, in Bloomfield and in Shadyside.

The garages are needed to serve planned retail, residential and office developments that are expected to generate $8 million a year in new property taxes, according to legislation submitted to City Council on Tuesday.

"We see them as exciting opportunities to invest in our neighborhoods," said Craig Kwiecinski, spokesman for Mayor Tom Murphy.

The URA projects would be financed with a form of public subsidy called tax-increment financing, or TIF, in which new property tax revenue generated by projects is used to pay off bonds issued for public improvements such as garages. The deals do not cost taxpayers anything, but divert new tax revenue from government coffers.

The URA also wants to spend $7 million in new tax revenue generated by two previous tax-increment financing deals to buy properties in the Fifth and Forbes redevelopment corridor, Downtown, Director Mulugetta Birru said. Some of the money would cover the costs of buying the former G.C. Murphy building and other structures the URA already owns. About $2 million would go to future property deals.

About $15 million in new tax revenue was generated by tax-increment financing deals on PNC Bank's Firstside Center and the Mellon Client Services Center, but Pittsburgh Public Schools and Allegheny County control about $8 million of the money.

All of the tax break bills are scheduled to come up for council discussion next Wednesday.

Council President Gene Ricciardi, who has opposed such deals, said he wants the URA to prove the projects could not proceed without public subsidies for parking garages.

"With the environment we face today, we need to be especially careful they are truly subsidies that will enable the projects to occur," he said.

Pittsburgh's $386 million budget this year has a projected $60 million deficit. Murphy has proposed two new taxes on drinks and business payrolls to help close that gap.

Construction on the North Shore garage could start this fall when Continental Real Estate begins the first three of 11 planned buildings between the sports stadiums. With nearly 1 million square feet of office and retail space and 356 residential units, the buildings are expected to raise $3.6 million a year in new property taxes.

The URA wants about a half-million dollars of that to build one of three proposed North Shore parking garages with 700 to 800 spaces and to make public streetscape improvements.

The Continental project's first phase includes two residential buildings and an office building. The URA garage would primarily serve the residents, said Steve Leeper, director of the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the stadiums.

Also, the URA wants to use $2 million in new property tax revenue from a Bloomfield development at Baum Boulevard and Woodworth Street for a parking garage, public utilities and public infrastructure there.

The $115 million project, called Luna Square, would generate $3.4 million annually in new property taxes. It calls for 150,000 square feet of office space, two hotels, a movie theater, restaurant and 70 residential units. The parking garage would have 1,500 spaces.

The third garage would go below an expanded Shadyside Giant Eagle at Centre and Negley avenues. The $40 million grocery store expansion and an accompanying 136-unit apartment building are expected to raise $953,745 in new annual property taxes. Half of that would pay for the garage and public infrastructure improvements.

"It is a significant investment we are looking at making," said Rob Borella, Giant Eagle spokesman. "The TIF issue will help offset some of the infrastructure costs."

In other business, council members unanimously approved a measure intended to prevent incidents similar to ones that killed more than 100 people at nightclubs in Chicago and Rhode Island last month. The Pittsburgh bill directs the mayor's office to conduct a study of fire codes at nightclubs and to step up enforcement of them.

Also, a new "no scalping zone" could be in effect by Opening Day for the Pirates at PNC Park next month, Councilman William Peduto said. The city, the Pirates and the Steelers have tentatively agreed to locate the zone in the southwest corner of parking lot Gold 4, near the foot of a new Fort Duquesne Bridge switchback ramp. Those who want to sell their tickets would use the zone.

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