Target 11 Investigation: $40M to lease Pittsburgh Police Headquarters building

PITTSBURGH — It’s a story Target 11 has been following for nearly 15 years. Investigator Rick Earle broke the story in 2008 that the city was paying more than $1 million to rent the building that houses the Pittsburgh Police Headquarters. Now, Earle has discovered that the 20-year lease is set to expire, but the city plans to extend it for six more years. It will cost the city an additional $8 million over the next six years. The city has already paid more than $28 million over the last two decades. In addition, the city paid nearly $1 million to renovate the building before moving in in the early 2000s.

Earle questioned current Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith about the plan to continue leasing the building.

“I think everyone doesn’t like seeing money go into a lease. Preferably we’d like to maintain our own buildings, our own facilities,” said Kail-Smith.

When Target 11 first broke the story about the lease payments, the head of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy called it a bad deal for taxpayers.

“I don’t know how to say it accept that the city taxpayers are paying about a million more for a public safety building than they should be paying a year. That’s not good stewardship of the taxpayer dollars,” said Jake Haulk of the Allegheny Institute.

Back then City Council President Doug Shields didn’t mince words when asked about the rental agreement.

“These are the legacies of bad governance … And Mr. Murphy (former Mayor Tom Murphy, whose administration signed the initial deal) is now gone working at the Urban Land Institute, making a nice buck and we’re stuck with the tab,” said Shields.

But several years ago, the Peduto administration came up with a plan to eventually move away from the pricey lease when they were able to purchase the old Veteran Affairs hospital in the East End from the federal government for only $1.

The Peduto administration planned to build a new public training facility on that 168-acre site and to relocate the police headquarters there, but the Gainey administration has questioned the cost of building at the old VA hospital. They contend the price to complete the project has substantially increased and they are looking for a location that would not include the high price of demolition.

During the past year, the Gainey administration diverted $1.4 million away from the VA project to pay for road improvements, a sign to some that the project may not be a priority.

Despite reallocating the funding, Mayor Ed Gainey’s budget director, Jake Pawlak, at a hearing Tuesday afternoon, expressed support for a new training facility somewhere in the city. He would not commit to the old VA hospital location, but he did not rule it out either.

“There are likely less expensive ways than the very high price of that proposal to achieve these objectives effectively on that site or elsewhere in the city,” said Pawlak.

In addition to the headquarters building lease, the city is also paying $2 million to rent a building for police training at the Community College of Allegheny County on the North Side.

A resolution to extend the lease payments for headquarters was introduced in city council Tuesday morning. Council must still vote on the proposal.

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