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Sports Authority approves Hill agreement |

Sports Authority approves Hill agreement

| Thursday, August 7, 2008 12:00 p.m

The Sports & Exhibition Authority approved the outline of a community benefits agreement with Hill District residents this morning.

Unless Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl sign it soon, however, residents could protest the arena’s groundbreaking, scheduled for Thursday.

It’s unclear exactly what they’d sign, however. The SEA board of directors gave unanimous approval to the agreement, even though it hasn’t been finalized.

“We approved the concept we’ve been talking about for many months,” said Mary Conturo, executive director of the authority.

The board also approved four arena construction contracts worth a total of $38.5 million. The arena, which will replace Mellon Arena as the Penguins hockey team’s home, is scheduled to be ready for the 2010-11 season. It is expected to cost between $290 million and $310 million.

The community agreement, meant to ensure the Hill benefits from the arena’s construction, will include a master development plan for the neighborhood, a grocery store and regular updates to keep residents apprised of job openings associated with the project.

It also will include tax credits meant to spur $500,000 in private business investment in the area, said Carl Redwood, chairman of the One Hill community group that has been negotiating the agreement with county and city leaders.

The sports authority plans to track how many local residents get jobs building the arena by monitoring how many workers list a 15219 ZIP code for their home address.

“The most important part of this is the community came together to make sure the neighborhood benefitted,” Redwood said. “It’s not about what you get. It’s about the process. People in the community came together, and worked very hard over the last year.”

Onorato and Ravenstahl are expected to attend the arena groundbreaking Thursday, along with Gov. Ed Rendell and Penguins officials. If the agreement isn’t signed by then, One Hill activists could try to stop construction, Redwood said.

“The position of our coalition ahs been we’ll do everything we can to stop the construction unless we have the Community Benefits Agreement,” Redwood said. He added that he expects Onorato and Ravenstahl to sign the deal soon.

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