Rivers Casino General Manager Todd Moyer hands over $1 million to Northside Leadership Conference board member Tony DiPardo. (Photo/Henry Clay Webster)

Rather than receiving gifts on its one year anniversary, the Rivers Casino used the occasion to honor one of its oldest pledges.

At a private event in the Wheelhouse Bar and Grill on Monday, Aug. 14, General Manager Todd Moyer handed representatives of both the Hill District and the Northside Leadership Conference oversized checks for $1 million.

“One of our goals is to support Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, particularly the Hill District community and the Northside Leadership Conference,” Moyer said.

The contributions fulfilled a community benefits agreement between the casino and the two groups made more than four years ago with original casino developer Don Barden. When Chicago real-estate tycoon Neil Bluhm took over the project in 2008, he kept the agreement, which pledges that the casino will give $1 million a year to the Conference for a three year period.

“Don Barden made the commitment four years ago. Neil Bluhm and his investors kept the promise,” which he didn’t have to do, said Ken McCabe, a member of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

By the terms of the agreement, the Conference must use $500,000 for development in the three closest business corridors to the casino — Western Avenue, East Ohio Street and the Federal/North district.

The other $500,000 is allocated for residential housing projects throughout the Northside.

“It’s a unique opportunity because we get to dictate how we use the money,” said Tony DiPardo, vice-president of the Conference’s board of directors who accepted the check.

Just the week before, the Conference’s board established guidelines for spending the funds.

A committee, made up board president Walt Nalducci and representatives of Fineview, Deutschtown, Spring Garden, Manchester, Allegheny West and the Central Northside, will determine how best to utilize the funds in the business districts. Funds could either be used for small business loans or for development projects.

A separate committee made up of representatives of all 14 neighborhood groups that constitute the Conference will consider best uses for the residential funds.

In the near future, applications will be available to those with project ideas. Both neighborhood groups and entities with the support of a neighborhood group are eligible to apply.

“The real good of this money will be what we do with it,” said Joan Russell, vice-president of the Spring Hill Civic League, who was on hand for the check presentation. “I think the allocation for housing is important for all Northside neighborhoods.”

Russell said her community group hadn’t yet discussed what housing projects they would like to fund. “I’m sure we can find an opportunity. It’s not hard.”

Others viewed the money as leverage.

“I think it’s important to parlay that money into other funds, so it’s not spent all at once,” said Linda Nelson, the president of Manchester Citizens Council.

Conference Director Mark Fatla agreed. “People have to remember this isn’t the only source of our funding,” he said, adding that its financing arm, the Northside Community Development Fund, had nearly $12 million in working capital.

Having the money on hand, Fatla said, allows the Conference to use it as a match to gain larger foundation grants.