‘A place to flee & not to be’

‘A place to flee & not to be’

As proverbial shots across the bow go, this is a pretty close and loud one. But you can bet “Official Pittsburgh” will kick its Great Rationalization Machine into overdrive rather than address the chronic, underlying issues that lit this cannon’s fuse.

We refer to the news that Highwoods Properties of Raleigh, N.C., a real estate investment trust, plans to sell not only Pittsburgh’s 40-story PPG Place office tower and complex but also the 32-story EQT Plaza and a property in East Liberty to raise capital to move into the Dallas real estate market.

You’ll recall, as the Post-Gazette does, that Highwoods “made a big splash when it entered the Pittsburgh market in 2011 by purchasing PPG Place for $179.4 million.” It later paid $99 million for the EQT tower and had been planning to build new office space in the city’s east end.

And do remember that PPG Place is more than just a single skyscraper. As the P-G reminds, the PPG “campus” also includes four six-story buildings and a 14-story building on 5.5 acres in the heart of the Golden Triangle.

But the real bow-shot came in Highwoods President and CEO Ted Klinck’s statement announcing the move:

It is “consistent with our long-term strategic plan of owning the highest quality office buildings” in markets “with favorable economic and demographic trends.”

Dallas fits that bill for Highwoods. Pittsburgh clearly does not.

Clearly, and as the Allegheny Institute has documented time and time again, the Pittsburgh market continues to fall short, economically and demographically. And, might we add, as a matter of governance.

Yet, our “leaders” keep foisting scheme upon scheme, invariably taxpayer-funded, in the name of the next “renaissance” that historically has resulted in low or no net economic growth and stagnant or declining net population.

And the real drivers of the market economy – the private sector — have been voting with their feet. Think most recently of Highwoods and ATI. Think of in the years past Mellon Bank and Alcoa (though the latter did return), among others.

New taxpayer-funded sports stadia, in the 1970s and in the 2000s, did not bring “renaissance.” Neither did a new taxpayer-funded convention center.

An outrageously expensive and taxpayer-funded light-rail system to the near North Side did not bring “renaissance.” Neither will pie-in-the-sky taxpayer-funded plans to extend it to the West and North hills. And neither did a taxpayer-funded Downtown subway and light-rail modernization project to the South Hills in the 1980s.

A new airport did not bring “renaissance” in the 1990s. Neither will another new airport in the 2020s. (Despite what the Airport Authority insists, there’s plenty of public money in the “new new” airport construction project). And neither will bribing airlines to fly here result in any kind of “renaissance.”

An academically and operationally failed public school system will not bring “renaissance.” Neither will a human-feces filled Downtown business district now, apparently and with impunity, run by gun- and knife-wielding criminals.

“And to make the perennial failures more glaring, the city was bequeathed a tremendous set of educational institutions, arts and music heritage, world class medical institutions and vast philanthropic organizations in addition to a massive manufacturing base,” reminds Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Allegheny Institute.

“All for naught in preventing decline, let alone fostering growth,” he laments. 

Sadly, tragically, we could go on and on. And how equally sad and tragic it is that Pittsburgh has become a place to flee and not to be.

Can this city be saved?

Not in this perpetual climate of “build it and they will come” and “they” don’t.

Not in Allegheny County’s steadfast refusal to regularly reassess property, which has perpetuated grossly unfair and unpredictable property tax bills.

Not with this mindset that government is the driver of prosperity when the fact of the matter is that government — all too quick to onerously regulate and dictate, transfer wealth and all in the name of faux “equity” — retards prosperity, if not outright prevents it.

Pittsburgh cannot survive the dysfunctional creations of decade upon decade of dysfunctional governance that has produced such intractable malaise.

And no jurisdiction should abide “public policy” that harms the public weal so deeply and turns public policy into a profanity.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).