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A Wider Arena

You're not the only victim of government negligence, Mario

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So let me get this right, Mario Lemieux: You tied the future of the Penguins to a casino operation, Isle of Capri. You sought to build a Hill District/Downtown casino that would have constructed a new hockey arena but would also cause great negative social effects for those who live, work and play nearby. Now that your plan has failed, you want government officials to give you just about everything you wanted anyway, except the casino?

In an effort to appease you and the fans, elected officials started offering concessions. But then you whined about wanting development rights to a larger area -- an area you previously tried to zone out for Isle of Capri and the new arena?

The Penguins have (literally) played in the Hill District for over 40 years, without offering anything substantial to the community. But the moment you see a lucrative deal that allows you to "stick it" to all of The Men you feel have disregarded you, you seek to literally and figuratively siphon off the Hill once more. In the whole discussion, I never heard or read you utter one word of empathy or understanding about neighborhood concerns.

Don Barden, who won the slots license, has offered to redevelop the Lower Hill. But now you're demanding development rights, and balking at the very idea of sharing control. How can you justify assigning development rights to the Penguins, a team that has demonstrated no sincere regard for its neighbors?

It's amazing you feel so entitled.

What's even more amazing is that you reportedly agreed to pay Isle of Capri $10 million if they did not win Pittsburgh's slots license. And now, officials say, you think the rest of us should pay for your comedy of errors.

You're not the only one who didn't get anything directly out of slots parlors. Gambling revenue is supposed to bring property-tax reductions, but the 72 percent of Hill District residents who don't own property will get no relief.

Had you consulted with Hill residents, we could have told you that putting a casino in the front yard of a primarily African-American working-class community was a bad idea. We have enough problems to deal with. Indeed, we could have told you a casino would be perceived as extraordinarily opportunistic and callous. "Next time," as my favorite caveman character states in the GEICO TV ads, "do a little research."

Then again, maybe you did. Since gambling money will apparently be used to build a new arena, and since African Americans are four times as likely to become problem gamblers, we will actually be paying off an even larger portion of your bill.

What will be the benefit for us -- those who stayed in Pittsburgh, when the rest of the folks were fleeing to suburbia? Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato are bargaining away development rights, but where are the meetings with the Hill residents next door? We should have significant input as to who gets the rights to our neighborhood and its borders. This is public land and, in case our elected representatives have forgotten, we are the public. No taxation without representation!

Mario, you purchased the Penguins seven years ago, saving them from bankruptcy. Arguably, you should have been given a new arena back then. But your "bad fortune" still finds you in the pile of millionaires. Meanwhile, people much less fortunate also have needs that must be reconciled with Pittsburgh's sordid history -- a history that dates back 50 years or more. A history that includes razing much of the Hill to build the arena in the first place, and then building nothing above Crawford Street.

You can't be held accountable for all the mistakes of the past, but that's the thing about history: You inherit the sins of your fathers because you also inherit their bounty. For decades the Penguins lived off the fruit of someone else's pain, someone else's displacement.

If you don't want to share development rights, you're seeking to block Barden from doing what your franchise failed to do for 40 years. The residents themselves have no equity in the development. So what does the Hill get now? There must be a reckoning!

Dr. Goddess says: "Thou shalt want for thy neighbor what thou wantest for thyself."

Dr. Goddess is the alter-ego and onstage persona of Kimberly Ellis, a community activist, performance artist and academic.

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