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Master Plan

City looking for company to help plan Hill District's future

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Community planners may be struggling in these tough economic times. But one lucky firm will soon find work planning much-needed development for Pittsburgh's Hill District.

In an effort to find a consultant who can provide a comprehensive plan identifying community needs -- affordable housing, economic development, educational facilities -- the city's planning department issued on April 6 a "Request for Proposal" (RFP) to more than 300 firms. And the city is expecting lots of submissions.

(Editor's note: After this story was published, a spokesperson for the Urban Redevelopment Authority informed City Paper that the Hill District RFP was not released as scheduled on April 6. The city has delayed the release date until April 23.)

"Work is hard to come by for consultants right now," says Carl Redwood, chairman of One Hill, a grassroots coalition of dozens of community groups and businesses. The city "anticipates a large response," he adds.

One Hill successfully negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) last summer, an effort to extract neighborhood benefits from the new hockey arena being built at the foot of the Hill District. The agreement promises to provide the neighborhood with jobs and resources, as well as a comprehensive development plan for the area. The Hill District is bounded by Bigelow Boulevard, the Boulevard of the Allies, Forbes Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

By analyzing the neighborhood's past and present, and specifying solutions to its problems -- blighted housing, high unemployment, loss of cultural identity -- the Hill District's master plan is expected to become a blueprint for neighborhood development. According to the RFP, contractors are expected to solicit input from residents and community stakeholders to help develop their plan.

Redwood says he's glad the RFP is out and that the master-planning process is underway. "Things are moving forward," he says. "And that's good."

City planner Justin Miller, who is managing the Hill District planning process, could not be reached for comment by press time.

The consultant chosen must work with the guidance of the Master Plan Steering Committee, a nine-member body composed of public officials and community representatives, as well as the Hill District Planning Forum, another group of community stakeholders.

Master-plan proposals are due to the city planning department May 8. City officials will then evaluate the proposals, as will the steering committee and planning forum.

On June 15, a contractor will be selected according to a number of criteria, the RFP states, including the firm's qualifications, experience with community-driven projects, and the clarity and scope of its proposal.

"I would like to see a proposal where there is a commitment to provide training and educational opportunities to people in the community," says Allegheny County Councilor Bill Robinson, a member of the Master Plan Steering Committee. In addition, he continues, "The plan has to seriously address the parking issue in the Hill District. That's a real challenge."

Ever since the Civic Arena was built in the 1960s, much of the Lower Hill has become a vast parking lot. And many residents, like Robinson, hope future development doesn't repeat the past.

The cost of compiling the master plan -- which is being paid for by the city, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Penguins -- should not exceed $350,000, according to the RFP.

Although the planning process is just beginning, the community is working against the clock: If advocates can't settle on their own development proposal, the Penguins can submit their own plans for the 28-acre site immediately surrounding the new arena after Feb. 19, 2010 -- without community approval. But Redwood says he's confident that the neighborhood will meet the 2010 deadline.

"We'll be able to do it," he says.

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