Robert's Reflections on 2017
A Message from URA Executive Director Robert Rubinstein
While the URA may appear to many in the outside world as a stodgy, monolithic, faceless bureaucracy, those in the know understand that we are a high-functioning, talent-laden team of dedicated and passionate public servants. The work ethic of URA staff is evident not only in the daily work of our “regular” activities, but also in all of the add-ons that employees routinely accept on top of everything else. I can’t think of a better example of this than sharing with you the work of URA volunteers who make up the dozen or so committees we have.
Our Social Equity committee made tremendous progress during 2017, implementing several elements of our Equity and Inclusion plans. These encompassed hiring a Minority- and Woman-Business Enterprise Officer and an MWBE Program Assistant, engaging translation services to better serve non-English-speaking Pittsburghers, and setting the plate for internal Equity training for all URA personnel.
A p4 (People, Planet, Place, and Performance) committee met regularly, working to incorporate this innovative metric system into our investment decision processes. We will begin pilot implementation in 2018, further advancing one of Mayor Peduto’s top initiatives.
Internal Safety and Maintenance committees have worked in concert with our Insurance committee to reduce our overall insurance expenses by 40 percent.
Our Digital Infrastructure committee completed its work, with our fairly seamless incorporation and adoption of Salesforce-based data management processes.
The Website committee is currently working hard, aiming for an end of 1st Quarter launch of a long overdue new site.
The URA Retirement Fund committee has dramatically increased the effectiveness of our self-directed investment program, bringing regular topical education programming and reducing overall costs and expenses.
The Third Thursday committee organizes monthly educational programming around URA activities and projects.
And finally, the Employee's Fund committee organizes our annual Summer Picnic and Holiday Party, along with other activities throughout the year.
Kudos to everyone who serves on these committees for making, and keeping, the URA a great place to work!
2017 also marked an incredible group of Interns - pound for pound, the most talented class I can recall in my nearly three decades at the URA. Kudos to Jennifer Breeze, Nicholas Cotter, Moira Egler, Katie Grauer, Fatema Juma, Miriam Kwagh, Jason Martin, Anthony Mitchell, Eddie Palmer, and James Reid!
Work continued on the Larimer/East Liberty Choice Housing Initiative, including major advances on the design and fundraising of a new “Larimer Green” park. Additionally, the URA Housing Department advanced important milestones in Mayor Peduto’s Executive Orders related to Affordable Housing. We stand poised to accept oversight and administration of the City’s Housing Opportunity Fund in 2018.
Our Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship deployed nearly $12.3 million in financing during the year, leveraging $19.1 million in additional investment and creating and retaining a minimum of 249 jobs. Together with the City and other partners, we hosted Small Business Resource Fairs in six different neighborhoods bringing financial and entrepreneurial tools to people thinking about starting or growing their businesses. Also, CIE led the city’s Inclusive Innovation efforts, advancing more than 50 initiatives and 80 events during 2017, including the fifth annual Steel City Codefest.
2017 was another stellar year for URA-affiliate Pittsburgh Urban Initiatives (PUI), which closed financing on six projects, totaling $167.5 million, utilizing PUI allocation of New Markets Tax Credits. PUI’s body of work now numbers 25 projects, which has enabled more than $586 million of total investment, 425 housing units, and the creation of 3,574 jobs.
The Pittsburgh Land Bank (PLB), under administrative agreement with URA, engaged in a six-month long robust public process to create its inaugural Policies & Procedures, culminating in formal adoption by both Pittsburgh City Council and the Pittsburgh Land Bank Board. The PLB is finalizing its 2018 Strategic Plan and will begin transacting on land early this year.
URA Engineering and Construction completed the South Shore Riverfront Park Gateway Improvements, the Pedestrian Improvements at Highland Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard, and launched the Lead-based Paint Initiative in partnership with Allegheny County.
In September, our work on the East Liberty Transit-Oriented Development project was recognized with an award at the International Economic Development Council’s Annual Conference in Toronto.
For six weeks in the fall, a URA team feverishly worked with the many partners who came together on the 4th floor of Two PNC to prepare and submit the Amazon HQ2 proposal on behalf of the Pittsburgh region. The work around this bid has already yielded business attraction to Pittsburgh. Further, the professional development and experience gained through this effort was invaluable. Stay tuned for (fingers crossed) more to come.
In December, Pittsburgh shined as host to the 2017 National Brownfields Training Conference. Approximately 2,000 practitioners from Washington to Maine, Montana to Louisiana, as well as a smattering of foreign delegations, attended the conference and were smitten by our great city. The conference included panels, workshops, forums, keynotes, and mobile tours, many of which featured URA projects and staff, and in one instance, Mayor Peduto and former Mayor Murphy. Throughout the three-day conference, we were inundated with accolades of how we have transformed Pittsburgh through thoughtful and innovative revitalization of our former brownfields. Congratulations to all the participants and the current and former URA employees who played important parts in our international success story.
Several of our colleagues have moved on to prestigious positions elsewhere. We miss them and extend our best wishes for continued success. On the positive side, these departures provide us with opportunities for staff advancement and new talent attraction.
We also have changes within our Board of Directors, as we welcome Mayor Peduto's appointment of Sam Williamson, Western PA District Leader of SEIU Local 32BJ. With this appointment, we bid a fond farewell and thank you to Senator Jim Ferlo. Senator Ferlo served on the URA Board for 11 years, and his value to the city in general, and the URA in specific, cannot be captured and acknowledged in a mere few sentences. On a personal level, I will miss his counsel, knowledge and leadership. Muchas Gracias, Senator.
2017 was a year of change at the URA, and we look forward to continued success in 2018.
Wishing you all the best in the new year.