New effort to bring businesses back to downtown Pittsburgh would offer 10-year tax exemption

PITTSBURGH — Businesses in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh are empty and for sale, but soon that could all change with the creation of a tax-free district.

“I think anything at this point will be a plus to downtown Pittsburgh because it’s not like it used to be,” said resident Sandy Sroka.

The city’s business district was once a vibrant economic hub, but a quick online search and you’ll find that downtown currently has more than 20 buildings for sale, and countless others for lease and rent.

But that could soon change. This month the city, the school district and the county have all agreed to collaborate and create a tax-free downtown. Any new business that creates at least 50 jobs will receive 10 years of tax exemption from county, city and school district property taxes. The same goes for housing projects that include 10% of units affordable to tenants at 50% area median income or 60% of units affordable to tenants at 80% of area median income.

“Right now, it’s another opportunity to put something in our toolkit that we can use to help continue to redevelop downtown,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey.

On Thursday, the city’s mayor called the effort a game-changer that will allow for a more inclusive downtown.

“For small businesses, diverse businesses this gives us the opportunity to say, ‘You’re welcome here,’ come on and invest we have an abatement program that’s going to benefit you,” Gainey said.

Tax exemptions for each individual project are capped at $250,000 annually per taxing body. But critics fear it’s a band-aid, not a resolution, but residents we spoke with are looking forward to new businesses in downtown.

“Small businesses are the backbone of both the local and national economy, so anything we can do to revitalize that [we should]. And I prefer to shop local whenever I can, so if I had choices downtown, I’d absolutely take those up,” said Ken Presutti, a city resident.

Businesses will have three years to apply, click here for more information.

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