“Up in the Air Development”: Wasted Time and Money
Economic development in Mt. Lebanon is officially "up in the air" with the announcement that the community had received a $150,000 County grant to study the possibility of developing the air rights above Port Authority trolley tracks. While the absurdity seems to lie with developing "air rights", it is actually stems from the wasted development opportunity along Washington Road in what was once called Washington Park.
The project, originally released in 2003, was to build high-end condos with retail on prime Parking Authority owned land. And of course, since this was public land, public money in the form of tax increment financing (TIF) was put forth to help fund the project. Mt. Lebanon Commissioners and the school board approved the TIF convinced they could best direct economic development. The state Department of Community and Economic Development even guaranteed part of the TIF claiming the public money would unlock private development.
But after two different developers tried to get the project going, plans appear to have been squashed. The sales trailer that once occupied the lot is now gone. Nothing sits on this prime piece of real estate. Instead of auctioning off the land to the highest bidder and letting the private market dictate development, public officials wasted an opportunity.
Now new excitement is being spun over a proposal to develop the area over transit tracks. Once again we hear the promise that public money will unlock private investment. As Mt. Lebanon’s Commercial Districts Manager says "we see it as a ‘set the table’ approach–we use some public money to take the first steps and then go out and drum up interest." Obviously public officials refuse to learn lessons regarding economic development–the private sector knows best how to utilize resources. All they need to do is peer down the street to see how well the last publicly directed development succeeded.