Rendering by Gensler architects.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are ready to bring 500 new apartments and 250,000 square feet of commercial space to their long-awaited Lower Hill development project.

But first, they’ll have to convince their neighbors.

According to lengthy discussions that took place between the city, the Penguins and neighborhood leaders in the Hill, each phase of the redevelopment plan will have to go through a rigorous community approval process, with local stakeholders given a chance to comment and vote on every aspect of the project.

“First of all, we’re happy that there’s movement,” says Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation. “We want to see that contiguous connection and we want to make sure that it honors the vision that’s been articulated in our community master plan.”

How will that happen?

As Milliones explains, project leaders must first submit their proposals to an 11-member committee of Hill residents who will evaluate the ideas against the master plan, a guide to equitable development first published in 2011.

If 80% or more of the committee approves, then a proposal will move forward to a larger community meeting where all residents will get a chance to comment and vote on the motion. Once again, if 80% or more of attendees at that meeting approve, the proposal can proceed to the relevant city committees.

“The process is really intended to advance development more quickly,” says Milliones. “By the time the builders get to the city regulatory process, it’s already aligned with the community.”

The specifics of the proposal that have been revealed — a plan for community parks and the opening of restaurant and entertainment venue Punch Bowl Social — will have to gain that public approval. Given that the plan was developed through several months of community meetings, it seems likely that approval will come.

Milliones says she expects that first proposal from the Penguins to be presented to the Hill District CDC sometime within the next several weeks, after which the process can begin in earnest.

According to estimates from the Penguins, the development will create 3,000 permanent jobs, 4,000 construction jobs and spur $750 million in private investment. Additionally, $25 million in tax revenues from the project will be steered to the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund, a community development organization founded in 2015.

Architecture firms Gensler and OHM Advisors collaborated on the overall plan. Partners on the construction include the Delaware-based Buccini/Pollin Group and the local company, Intergen Real Estate Group.

While developers seeking public input and approval for their projects is fairly common, questions about transparency and collaboration are particularly charged in the Hill District, where decades of redlining have left residents isolated and excluded from the city’s rising prosperity.

It’s a legacy that informs every aspect of Milliones’s work and it’s one she says must be acknowledged as ambitious new projects of all kinds take shape.

“Issues ranging from the redevelopment of the Lower Hill District to the community land trust, to the redevelopment of our business corridor along Center Avenue, and food deserts. They’re all intertwined,” says Milliones. “We have to approach them with a critical eye and critical analysis that are going to get us to where we envision ourselves.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.