Stocks & pedestal — Summer 2008

Casino garage & Mark Nordenberg
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Great cities take great care when it comes to aesthetics, and Pittsburgh is fortunate to be among the nation’s great architectural cities. It doesn’t continue by magic, though. It takes planning and vigilance.

Going into the stocks this issue is the monstrous parking garage being planned by casino developers on the North Shore. The 10-​story structure would be a blight on whatis supposed to be a showcase area for the whole region.

Thank goodness for the Riverlife Task Force. The nonprofit organization has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn the city Planning Commission’s approval of the garage, claiming it violates the city zoning code. The city has, in turn, asked the court to dismiss the case, saying essentially, “It’s too late.” Wedisagree, and we hope the court does too.

In the meantime, casino developer Don Barden is not inspiring confidence. His casino company is losing money. He balked at making good on a $3 million pledge to the Hill District. More ominous, however, is the project’s tenuous financing. It’s had low credit ratings because it’s being funded entirely with debt — with no cash equity from the developer or investors. This means high interest rates on the debt and very little margin for error.

Riverlife has Pittsburgh’s best interests at heart. We’re sure the nonprofit didn’t relish the legal challenge, but citizens of Greater Pittsburgh should be glad that somebody is looking out for the region. Unfortunately, in this case, the city government is not.

On a pedestal

Mark Nordenberg: At a time with much to cheer, we’re putting Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg on the pedestal for his leadership in the watershed report on consolidating Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government.

Nordenberg led a committee of 13 community leaders, each of whom deserves credit, as do Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for commissioning the report and immediately backing its findings.

The 21-​page report looks at best practices nationally and recommends three main actions: reduce service duplication between Pittsburgh and Allegheny County; create a “cooperation compact” to continue efforts beyondOnorato’s and Ravenstahl’s terms; and put consolidating Pittsburgh and Allegheny County governments up for a referendumat “the earliest appropriate time.”

The report notes that the new government will represent 1.25 million people and catapult Pittsburgh from the nation’s 56th mostpopulous city to 8th. It will reduce bureaucracy and make this a better place for investment. (Read the report at pitts​burghquar​terly​.com)

It is certain that a chorus of “Whoa —hold on a minute” will arise. Equally certain, however, is that we can no longer affordantiquated and inefficient government. The time for change has come.

We are fortunate to have the leadership of Nordenberg for many reasons. This report adds another and charts the course for the rest of us. Now, every citizen who wants to see this region flourish must get behind the plan. The time has come to “Just do it.”

Douglas Heuck

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 25 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-​Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck’s work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case “Food Lion vs. ABC news.”

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