November 19, 2013; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh has been the epicenter of the debate between municipal governments and nonprofits concerning payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). Last year, we called it the nation’s “PILOT petri dish.” Nonprofits had a testy relationship with mayor Luke Ravenstahl, but now there is a new mayor, Bill Peduto, ready to take office. Will dynamics with nonprofits change in the Steel City?

Earlier this week, Peduto addressed the annual meeting of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership and called for a “whole new partnership.” Among the elements of the new partnership might be Peduto’s call for more attention to neighborhood revitalization and less to “urban revitalization by the wrecking ball,” referring to large projects like stadiums, convention centers, and airports. Toward his neighborhood focus, Peduto is creating a new “education and neighborhood reinvestment office” to be headed by Curtiss Porter, currently the chancellor of Penn State Greater Allegheny in McKeesport. The other major appointee to this new neighborhood-focused effort will be Valerie McDonald-Roberts, a former city councilwoman and currently manager of Allegheny County’s real estate division, to oversee housing and interfaith initiatives.

But what will the mayor do regarding nonprofit PILOTs when he officially takes office in January? The Post-Gazette quote was obscure: “You have a seat at the main table now,” he said to the nonprofits, “and I’m expecting great things from you.”

Mayor-elect Peduto is now soliciting applicants to serve on his transition team. The report from the transition team will be indicative of whether the tense relationships between City Hall and charities during the past few years takes a positive turn.—Rick Cohen