Moreover, the $157,000 is not an innocuous or benign amount for a feasibility study given that the company hired, Populous, seems used to getting larger stadium design contracts following the advice that it gives (HT: Charles Maldonado):
Not only is it designing new stadiums and renovating old ones, it also is providing the teams with early advice about site locations, stadium revenues and costs. The teams, having relied on HOK [now Populous] for consulting, are then turning to the same firm for the multimillion-dollar design contract -- services that are being partially paid with public money.
There is nothing illegal or very unusual about building designers also serving as consultants. In fact, HOK competitors admit it's a smart business tactic.
But it does illustrate the hold HOK has on the stadium market in Pittsburgh. And for some people it raises questions about whether the selection of a stadium architect should be more of a public process and whether the opinions HOK provides to the teams can be unbiased.
Asking HOK for advice on a new stadium "is a little bit like asking a barber if you need a haircut," said Marty Powell, of The Design Alliance Architects.. "The answer is 'Yes,' even if you had one yesterday."
And the $157,000 may open the flood gates for other sharks to circle a big capital project without guarantees that neighborhood mackerels like Germantown, Salemtown, Hope Gardens, and Buena Vista will have any say over impact or consistency with community character. For all intents and purposes the planning process for a new ballpark was launched weeks ago at a Civic Design Center forum without any formal provision for community input. Feedback forums have been promised down the road, but the promise seems like an afterthought.
If $157,000 does not lead to smart, community-based growth in the North End based on principles of sustainability, complete streets, mass transit options, and real investment in neighborhood small businesses, then it is bound to be a boondoggle. This should count for more than baseball, for more than bling.