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Neighborhoods: Not everyone is in favor of the CBA

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When leaders of the One Hill coalition announced their overwhelming approval of a tentative community-benefits agreement (CBA) with government and Pittsburgh Penguins officials at a May 10 press conference, roughly a dozen supporters stood smiling and cheering behind them.

Cliff Christian wasn't one of them.

Christian, who co-owns an embroidering company with his wife in the Hill District, was one of about a half-dozen negotiators on One Hill's side of the table. Instead of joining the group before the cameras at Hope Square in the Hill District, however, Christian stood off to the side, wearing a T-shirt which spelled out a rather lengthy dissent across his torso:

"Vote no to the CBA," the shirt read. "The two lead negotiators did not negotiate on behalf of the community, but for their individual goals. They intentionally let the Penguins out of any responsibility to this community, and we got a (CBA) social program agreement which amounts to nothing."

The agreement, which has yet to be signed, would: give Hill District residents dibs on jobs created by the $290 million arena; establish a tax-credit program for corporations to contribute up to $6 million for economic development in the neighborhood; and pledge $2 million for a community grocery store. While 42 members of One Hill supported the deal, saying it would help spur economic growth, there were 13 dissenters. And with the agreement just weeks away from being finalized, critics inside and outside One Hill are speaking out.

"I was appalled at how [One Hill's lead negotiators] let the Penguins off the hook," says Christian, who says he's especially upset that the Penguins have only pledged $1 million toward neighborhood development. "[The agreement] wasn't negotiated right."

According to Christian, the lead negotiators -- Hill House executive director Evan Frazier and Pittsburgh UNITED co-chair Gabe Morgan -- "should have turned the offer down and went to war."

Frazier and Morgan "thought they were negotiating in the best interest of the community, and I respect that," Christian says. But he faults them for trying too hard "not to piss people off" -- and thus settling for a poor deal that relies on social programs rather than solid monetary commitments.

"I took [the tentative agreement] as an insult to my intelligence," agrees Eugene Taylor, another One Hill member who voted against the deal. "It's a joke. I would have told the Penguins to go shove it.

"The Penguins are making big bucks," he adds. "They're giving us $1 million? Come on."

According to Forbes magazine's list of the 2007 most valuable hockey franchises, the Penguins are ranked 22nd out of 30 teams and worth an estimated $155 million. The team has estimated net revenues of $67 million. However, Forbes estimates revenues to climb by at least $25 million once the new arena is built. The value of the arena is also considered in calculating the team's worth, which should increase once the new facility is built.

As for the neighborhood-development tax breaks, Taylor says, "Tax credits are only giving back our money. ... This CBA amounts to precisely nothing."

Those outside of One Hill haven't held back their criticism, either. One member of the Hill Faith and Justice Alliance, which urged coalition members to vote against the agreement, even spoke out against the Penguins' contribution during One Hill's celebratory press conference [See City Paper "One Hill ratifies CBA, but not everyone is happy" May 15].

In response to critics, coalition leaders admit they didn't get everything they wanted in the deal. One Hill negotiators may have attained bits and pieces of the outline they developed to help guide their discussions, but they had to compromise on particular planks, most notably their acceptance of the tax-credit program over a $10 million community fund.

"There is no agreement that is perfect," Frazier says, adding that the deal will help bring much-needed jobs and resources to the neighborhood. "We were advocating for greater things. ... I see this [CBA] as a beginning place, not an endgame."

Considering that Penguins officials spent months refusing to negotiate with One Hill, Frazier says there comes a point when you have to reach a compromise.

"Throughout the process there was resistance to any agreement at all," he says.

According to Frazier, the most important thing is that the majority of One Hill's members support the CBA. And for those who don't, his message is simple: "It's harder to construct something that's positive than to be a critic."

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