By: Dontae Washington
Lifelong Hill District Angela Akers resident has plans to move after 80 years.
She worries that a new development backed by the Pittsburgh Penguins will force her to relocate, just like the construction of the former Civic Arena did 70 years ago.
“When they are through with the Lower Hill District, they are coming for us,” Akers said. “I got [housing] applications in already.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins are working with developers to build a new 28-story First National Bank headquarters in the Lower Hill District. Residents fear that means change is coming, and they will not be a part of it.
On September 1st, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced the plan to build a $240 million dollar First National Bank financial center.
In exchange, The Hill District is promised up to $40 million in tax revenue.
That would provide more housing and retail, eventually bringing consistent stream of income for the neighborhood.
Even with all that has been promised, the residents still are wary.
This sounds familiar to residents who lived here since the 1950’s.
In order to build the old home for the Penguins, the Civic Arena, the city of Pittsburgh tore down a community in the lower Hill District that was on the property.
That strained the relationship between residents and the team ever since.
The Hill District plans to add more housing through tax revenue from the FNB tower that the Penguins promised.
Thirty percent of the housing that is being built, will be affordable for low-income households, but housing is not the only problem, residents said.
“We need stores,” Akers said.
The neighborhood lacks retail and shopping stores.
Akers said that in the 1960’s “there were grocery stores, shoe stores, and places to go to enjoy yourself. You did not need to leave to get what you wanted.”
While some older residents have sour feelings about the deal, other younger residents said they are open to see what happens.
James Wawa-Hough is a Hill District native who provides a workspace for young artists of the neighborhood.
He believes that Penguins may be trying to right their wrongs, but he also has his doubts.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I’m programmed to believe that people operate from a good place. However, Knowing the History of the development and the racial dimensions of the Hill District, I am concerned,”.
“The Penguins acknowledged that what happened in the 1950’s was a mistake,” said Bill Peduto in a press release.
Yet, residents feel like all they did was give an apology.
Patricia Bates is also a long time Hill District resident who feels wronged by the Penguins.
“I was not alive in the 1950’s to witness in person, but I know how the Penguins operate,” Bates said.
Bates’s goes on to talk about how her mother tried to get people to help the community, but the Penguins did not attend.
“My mom used to put on events for the community,” “She did it for 14 years. For those 14 years, the Penguins did not donate one time,”.
This is an issue that dates back further than 14 years.
“Both the Penguins and the Steelers state that they support the community,” said Akers However, neither of them has not made their way into the black communities,”.
Despite all the tension, residents said they have some ideas for ways the team could work better with the community.
“The Penguins need to create more activities in the community. Create a hockey rink for the kids not to get future consumers, but to share what they love to do with the community,” Hough said.
The team also could do more to promote diversity within the National Hockey League: Out of 1,000 NHL players, only 43 are black.
“It’s about community engagement. The Penguins knows that the Hill District is here, but they do not acknowledge it.” Hough said.
The Penguins apologized to the community and the even honored the neighborhood’s history on the 24th of February.
Residents acknowledged the attempt but said they feel like they need to do more.
In the upcoming months, the Penguins intentions will be revealed.
“Change is coming,” Bates said. “The question is it a new change or will it be something that we have seen before?”
Based on the current plans, Hill District Residents have something to be hopeful about.
The Pittsburgh Penguins is planning to start a Greater Hill Reinvestment Fund.
7.5 million dollars in redevelopment projects throughout the Middle and Upper Hill District.
In addition, 2.5 million dollars will go to supporting black and women owned businesses.
Majority of those businesses will be placed in the Hill District.
As the Penguins try to make up for the past, they are also trying to make it a bright future for Hill District residents.
The Penguins plans to help the Hill District’s youth by offering apprenticeships and training programs. The also want them to get an education by providing more internships, education scholarships, and networking events. Finally, the plan to make a 3-acre safe space on Wylie Ave so that the next generation have a safe place to go.
“This is all we are asking for. Know that the 60’s was a mistake and then do something about it,” Hough said.
An English Churchman named Thomas Fuller once said “Better break your word than do worse in keeping it”.
The Hill District is tired of broken promises and if the Penguins break this deal, there may be no turning back.