Does East Liberty Need a NID?

One of the agenda items that City Council had this past month was a petition from residents of East Liberty to establish a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) in that section of the City. Under the NID law, a petition is not binding and it is ultimately the decision of the governing body to create a NID. If 40% of the affected property owners submit written opposition about the district then the NID is nullified. We last wrote about the mechanics of the NID in two pieces in 2002.

The purpose of the NID is to levy additional special assessments on the property owners within the district in order to promote economic growth and development.

So how many NIDs are out there? According to data from the PA Downtown Center in Harrisburg, there are 32 including districts in Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland. A third of them are located in Philadelphia. All but two are active and assessing their particular levy according to the Center. The Center did not count a few tax increment financing projects (Victory Center, Pittsburgh Mills) that utilized the NID legislation to provide additional financing, even though their use was a complete perversion of what was intended by the legislation. The proposed WEHAV program for the West End of Pittsburgh underwent similar scrutiny in 2002 for its aim and focus.

What City Council and East Liberty need to decide is this: will higher fees and more government intervention promote the type of future the community desires?

Urban Planning Missed the Mark

The City development community is celebrating a big win today with the announcement that national retailer Target is going to set down roots in East Liberty after a seven year effort to lure the company began. There is a loan ($20 million) and a tax credit backed investment ($12.6 million) on top of $14 million in site development from U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds.

One official noted that "if we were able to stay on the short list during one of the world’s largest global recessions, I think that proves there’s a really good market in East Liberty".

What it might prove is that communities might be able to overcome the huge mistakes made by urban planners of decades past. East Liberty’s pedestrian mall was labeled as a prime example of "…Pittsburgh’s cockeyed urban planning" in a 2000 op-ed piece in the PG. Five years later when announcing plans for a pedestrian bridge near the development the head of the URA noted that the structure would go a long way toward "undoing 30 years of bad urban renewal".

Unfortunately there are no repercussions for bad urban planning or bad urban renewal, only vows to do better the next time.