Pittsburgh offers Enright Parklet as bargaining chip in East Liberty development talks
Pittsburgh is using a popular East Liberty park as a bargaining chip in negotiating redevelopment of Penn Plaza Apartments but won’t necessarily sell the park to the developer, a city official said.
East Liberty residents and the nonprofit civic organization East Liberty Development Inc. oppose a sale, complaining they were excluded from talks about the sale of Enright Parklet. They say the neighborhood has a dearth of public green space, and they fear a private owner could restrict hours and activities at Enright.
“Our two daughters grew up in this park, and our children don’t have that many places to go and be safe. I hate to see this park go,” said Barbara Holmes, 75.
Kevin Acklin, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff and the city’s chief development officer, said an agreement between the city and Pennley Park South Inc. does not guarantee a sale. Pennley Park South is a subsidiary of Downtown-based LG Realty Advisors Inc., which owns Penn Plaza and wants the park for its development.
The agreement calls for a possible sale, but the city intends to negotiate for a new park to be included in the development, Acklin said.
“We do think that there’s an opportunity here to preserve public space in connection with this development and to do a new park,” he said. “This (agreement) was about preserving the opportunity for 200 residents at risk in Penn Plaza to continue to live there and to have options to relocate with funding provided by (LG Realty).
“One of the things (LG Realty) requested was to have the public land be potentially part of that negotiation. No one has given anything up to have a discussion about preserving that park.”
Acklin, who met with opponents of the sale Friday, said the agreement is subject to a public hearing and approval by City Council, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and city planning and zoning boards.
Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who had said the park wasn’t necessary to complete the project, noted that Highland Park — one of the city’s largest — is within walking distance of East Liberty.
He said the company would need the space to reconnect streets and change traffic patterns, both of which the city requested in the agreement.
“We recognize it’s not perfect, but we think it delivers the greatest benefit for the most people,” Kamin said of the agreement.
LG Realty plans to demolish the two buildings, which include 312 apartments for low-income and market-rate tenants, and replace them with a development that would include commercial and residential space.
In July, it sent eviction notices to residents of more than 200 occupied apartments, giving them 90 days to move.
Acklin arranged a 60-day delay of the evictions and officials, including Peduto, met with elderly and working-class residents who said they feared rising rents would squeeze them out of the neighborhood.
Last week, the city announced a deal in which the company would move residents out in two phases in 2016 and 2017 and subsidize their moving expenses. Pittsburgh officials agreed to consider sale of the 2.28-acre park at a yet-to-be-determined market rate.
The agreement calls for a tax abatement for LG Realty, in which part of the tax savings would go toward building affordable housing for low-income neighborhood residents.
The park is tucked behind the two large Penn Plaza buildings on Penn Avenue and named for Thomas Enright of Bloomfield, one of the first three American soldiers killed in World War I.
“These are fantastic things for the residents of Penn Plaza,” said Kendall Pelling, director of land recycling for East Liberty Development Inc. “We think there’s a better way to fund affordable housing than selling the poor people’s park for commercial development.”
Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or email@example.com.