Friday, March 31, 2006

Lebo: Tempest over Arts and Science Funding

Passions are rising in Mt. Lebanon this week over a discussion at last Monday's School Board meeting. I wasn't there, and I haven't (yet) seen the video, but I'm told that members of the Board actually had a genuine conversation about budget priorities. What has people upset -- some teachers, some parents, and now, it seems, even some students -- is the possibility that the Board may critically examine funding for the fine arts, along with funding for math and science, among other things.

Some people have drawn the inference that the Board is considering eliminating some fine arts programs altogether. Homemade flyers have appeared at street corners in some parts of Mt. Lebanon that say "Save Our Band."

On the one hand, that strikes me as a terrible overreaction; it's difficult for me to imagine the Mt. Lebanon community tolerating the wholesale elimination of arts programming, or even significant chunks of it. Anyone with even a casual acquaintance with the Mt. Lebanon School District knows that Mt. Lebanon has a fine arts program that is nationally competitive. It is truly an extraordinary resource, and, as people who know the arts know, excellence in the arts is expensive.

On the other hand, budgets are budgets, and Mt. Lebanon doesn't have unlimited resources. How many Mt. Lebanon homeowners would like to pay more in school taxes? We elected a School Board to have these discussions, and it sounds to me like the discussions are going on. As a first step, I think that's a good thing. I like the fact that the Board is actively involved. As to the merits of where the budget process should go, or is likely to go, I welcome comments.

UPDATE: Here's a copy of the flyer.
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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lebo: News Roundup

From today's South section of the Post-Gazette:

Tom Stevenson is trying to get state law on public construction projects changed. The current law cost Mt. Lebanon School District extra money and time during the schools renovation project.

Recreational hunting is an option being considered as a measure to deal with Lebo's deer population, though any final decision seems to be a long ways off.

The Dormont pool needs $2.5mm of repairs and won't open this summer.

The Zamagias project for the corner of Bower Hill Road and Washington Road is moving through the Lebo planning process at the same time that it is moving through the process for considering a TIF.
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lebo: Aldo Coffee is Hot!

[Cross-posted from Pittsblog]

According to the Kansas City Star, in a story on business blogging:
Aldo Coffee, a single coffee shop in suburban Pittsburgh, has become the coffee hot spot in that city because of its active blog. It’s the shop out-of-town visitors ask for when arriving in Pittsburgh.

And it's not just the blogging; they deliver a great product. Fortunately, Aldo's is walking distance from my house. Congrats to Rich and the gang for the notice!
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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Lebo: Cubanomics and the Denis

[Cross-posted from Pittsblog]

Earlier this year, Mt. Lebanon native, dot-com billionaire, Dallas Mavericks owner, and emerging digital entertainment mogul Mark Cuban lit into Hollywood for its refusal to allow most movie theatres to show Cuban's co-produced film "Bubble." The problem? Not only is Cuban a Hollywood outsider, but the film, which was directed by Steven Soderbergh, was released to DVD at the same time as it was released for theatrical distribution.

Meanwhile, here in Pittsburgh, the Denis theater in Mt. Lebanon closed a year-and-a-half ago and has been sitting dark and silent on Washington Road. All around it, the Mt. Lebanon business district has undergone a steady food-and-drink based revival. Bringing the Denis back on line would be a perfect complement to the existing business zone.

There's a wistful line that pops up around Pittsburgh this time of year that wonders why Mark Cuban doesn't buy the Pittsburgh Pirates. That, I think, is a fantasy that will never come true.

But if anyone has Mark Cuban's ear, please pass along this thought: Why not buy the Denis? Build your own theatrical distribution network, starting in your home town, and use it to break Hollywood's grip on filmmaking and film distribution. Talk about putting Pittsburgh on the entertainment map. How about it? Make the owner of the Denis an offer he can't refuse.
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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lebo: Unmarked Dodge Magnum Police Car

Does the Mt. Lebanon Police Department have a new unmarked police car? On Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon recently, I saw a police officer in an unmarked Dodge Magnum -- with red and blue lights flashing -- writing a traffic ticket for a stopped vehicle. The type and color of the police vehicle is illustrated at right.
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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lebo: Soccer Questions

I'm hearing that there are dueling petitions circulating among parents in the high school soccer community. There is one that asks, apparently, that the School Board fire the Mt. Lebanon high school girls' soccer coach. There is a second one that asks, apparently, that the School Board not interfere with personnel decisions that are ordinarily made by the Athletic Director.

The Trib carried a story about this issue back in December.

It seems odd that this kind of trouble should come to such a successful program. Judging from the Trib's story, neither the District nor the former Board nor parents of varsity players have complained. What's changed?
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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lebo: State to Audit Schools Project?

The P-G reports from the most recent school board meeting:
The state auditor general's office has asked for documentation on the recent renovation of seven elementary schools in the Mt. Lebanon School District, a project that recently was completed at a cost of about $52.7 million.

District Finance Director Jan Klein reported at last night's board meeting that a representative of state Auditor General Jack Wagner requested copies of the project's original budget and revised budget, copies of change orders and monthly reports from general contractor Turner Construction to the school board.

In addition, the auditor general requested the sources and uses of funds for the project.
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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Lebo: Enrico Biscotti is Here

Enrico Biscotti has slipped into Mt. Lebanon, almost under the radar. The new store is at 665 Washington Road, right near Aldo Coffee.

IMHO, Enrico makes the single best foodstuff available in Pittsburgh. Check it out!
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Lebo: Business Blog-splosion Coming in May

Rich W. at Aldo Coffee is planning to host a business blog session on May 24 -- part of a plan to persuade every Washington Road business to build a blog (hey Rich -- maybe it gets easier if some of them join forces and do group blogs. Or photoblogs. Or even video blogs!).

Whatever the strategy, I've put May 24, 6:30 p.m., on my calendar.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lebo: More on Zamagias's TIF

Cross-posted from Pittsblog:

UPDATE (March 7, 2006): The Tribune-Review takes note.
Take a hike: Zamagias Properties is telling Mt. Lebanon officials that it won't build a $28.8 million luxury condominium project without a $4.5 million tax-increment financing package. The 60 condos would sell for, on average, $475,000. Tony indeed. Why should the public help pay for such a thing? Pure and simple, it shouldn't. If Zamagias can't make a buck on this project on its own, the complex should not be built. Taxpayers are not venture capitalists.

Actually, that last line is misleading. The problem here isn't that a TIF would turn taxpayers into venture capitalists. Venture capitalists, after all, are all about returns on their investment. A TIF for Zamagias would produce returns for Zamagias, not for the taxpayers. The problem here is that Mt. Lebanon and County taxpayers are being asked to give up so much in return for so little.
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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lebo: Martha's Run is Coming

Mt. Lebanon's own 10K is coming up soon -- April 8, 2006 at 8:30 a.m. Race info at
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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lebo: TIF Madness Posted to Pittsblog

My irritation over the media's failure to cover criticism of the Zamagias condo project spilled over to Pittsblog this morning.

UPDATE: Bill Matthews emails to point out the following (and Bill clarifies that this is largely his review of Z's numbers):

Zamagias's own earlier projections included $2.7mm in retail revenue. Suppose, however, that the the retail won't be so good. Assume $2.0mm in retail rather than $2.7mm (approximately 25% less). Take out the proposed TIF ($3.5mm). The projected project return ($5.5mm) becomes $1.3mm. If Zamagias puts up $6.0mm in equity, that's a little better than 20%. Push a bit harder on the retail side, and squeeze harder to save construction costs, and Zamagias should do even better than that. A bank should be willing to lend against those figures, TIF or no TIF.
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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Lebo: Zamagias Condo Project

Today's Tribune-Review carries a long story today about the TIF proposal for the Zamagias condo development proposed for the Washington Road/Bower Hill Road intersection.

In an earlier post, I promised a link to a financial summary of the project that Zamagias prepared last summer -- which suggests that the project does just fine financially -- even without a TIF. Here it is (300 KB PDF).
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