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Pittsburgh’s $3.5B OnePGH to launch this year, mayor says

Bob Bauder
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s biggest initiative to date is full of big numbers.

The $3.5 billion plan, dubbed OnePGH, is looking to raise about $50 million a year for the next 12 years from the city’s largest institutions.

The money will go toward 46 projects, including public art, universal preschool, affordable housing and clean air and water.

And it will launch sometime during the next year.

But Peduto’s weighty plan is still light on details.

“We are creating something that doesn’t exist today,” Peduto said. “This would be an organization that is created to be able to meet the critical needs of the neediest through a combined effort of government, corporations, institutions and foundations, the leadership of Pittsburgh.”

The mayor said the project has been in the works for several years. It will start with the announcement of an administrative council that will determine how the program should be structured and administered.

Peduto, since taking office in 2014, has sought to bolster the city’s declining tax base through public-private partnerships.

He believes OnePGH is a way to generate far more revenue for city projects than the payments in lieu of taxes agreements that nonprofits have previously agreed to. About 40 percent of Pittsburgh real estate — the city’s largest revenue source — is owned by tax exempt entities, including government.

Participants have yet to send the mayor specific financial commitment, but Peduto said all have agreed to be involved.

Institutions contacted by the Tribune-Review said they will participate but are waiting for details.

“Mayor Peduto knows he has UPMC’s support and can count on our fullest possible participation that is fair and equitable,” UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said.

Highmark spokesman Aaron Billger said his organization was also on board.

“We have long been a partner with the city of Pittsburgh and plan to continue,” he said. “We welcome more details about the mayor’s full plan.”

OnePGH will require the creation of a nonprofit to separate the program from the politics of city government.

The nonprofit will handle annual financial contributions totaling $20 million from city hospitals and $10 million each from universities, foundations and corporations. Peduto hopes to remold the Sprout Fund, which closed in 2018, into OnePGH because it’s already set up as a charity capable of accepting tax-deductible contributions.

Other funding will come from government and national foundations, he said.

“We have identified 46 specific projects that we need to address over the next 12 years,” Peduto said. “We’ve created the budget for those projects. We’ve identified the funding gaps. We’ve approached our foundations, hospitals, universities and corporations to partner with us and to be able to fill those gaps both through direct financial assistance and through strategic partnerships. They’ve all committed to be a part of it.”

He said funding goals for the various entities are flexible and could change annually depending on financial gaps. Contributions could come in the form of services provided by the institutions.

A foundation such as the Heinz Endowments, for instance, which provides grants for things such as air quality and education, could fund projects surrounding those issues. Those contributions would be counted as part of their annual commitment, Peduto said.

The mayor said he would release more details as the plan is phased in.

“I don’t want to give a time frame, because it’s more important to me what is the result in 12 years than what is the date that we start,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.