Ed Gainey
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. Photo by Nick Childers. Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource.

This story was originally published by PublicSource, a news partner of NEXTpittsburgh. PublicSource is a nonprofit media organization delivering local journalism at publicsource.org. You can sign up for their newsletters at publicsource.org/newsletters.

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A little more than a year ago, then-Mayor Bill Peduto announced what he hoped would be a triumphant milestone in his years-long quest to get tax-exempt nonprofits to contribute more to the city. The OnePGH Fund would be the financial solution Pittsburgh had been waiting for.

The future of OnePGH was thrown into doubt when Ed Gainey defeated Peduto last May and became mayor this year. But the new administration may not scrap the project entirely: Gainey has appointed two high-profile administration officials, Deputy Chief of Staff Felicity Williams and City Planning Director Karen Abrams, to its board while he simultaneously negotiates with major nonprofits.

“We’re in a ‘to be determined,’” said Grant Ervin, OnePGH’s board president and a former city planning resilience officer under Peduto. “The tool and the organization is there for [the Gainey administration’s] utilization. It’s incumbent on the mayor and his team to set the course on how to utilize it and what those priorities are.”

Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak told PublicSource that the administration is looking at ways to use the nonprofit and that it will continue to exist, but they do not intend to use it as a conduit for major funding from the likes of UPMC and other large nonprofits.

“We are figuring out the right way to situate it in the city’s toolbox for seeking outside funding,” Pawlak said. “It’s fair to say we have a more limited view of that than the previous administration.”

Former Mayor Bill Peduto announcing the OnePGH initiative at his Downtown office on April 29, 2021. Photo by Rich Lord/PublicSource.

Ervin pointed to New York City’s Mayor’s Fund, which is also an independent nonprofit entity.

Langley said that while he is not sure if OnePGH is the answer as currently constituted, the concept could ultimately foster a more cooperative relationship between the city and the nonprofits, which he said is key to getting greater contributions.

“The track record seems to suggest that a cooperative approach is better,” Langley said. “There are various sorts of sticks that city governments try to use. And in a narrow sense, they may work in getting PILOT contributions in some cases. But my sense is that the majority of the time they don’t work.”

Pawlak said the administration is more interested in traditional PILOT agreements, with money going directly from nonprofits to the city’s coffers. “This is not uncharted territory,” he said. “We’re not viewing this as something that needs to go through an intermediary.”

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at charlie@publicsource.org and on Twitter @chwolfson.

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