Redevelopment of Carrie Furnace site to begin this year
May 18, 2009 4:00 AM
Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette
Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato goes through the remnants of the Carrie Furnace site.
By Karamagi Rujumba Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In a field of knee-high grass behind the hulking frame of what is left of Carrie Furnace -- an expanse of blast furnaces that once produced as much as 1,200 tons of iron per day for the former Homestead Works of U.S. Steel mill -- sits a rusted torpedo car.
The cylindrical container made of steel, together with hundreds more, was at one time an indispensable tool in the steel producing days of the Mon Valley. Back when massive steel factories still churned plumes of smoke over much of the region, torpedo cars didn't sit rusting away.
They were used to treat and transport iron via a hot metal rail bridge that runs across half of the Carrie Furnace site in Rankin and Swissvale, over the Monongahela River, and into Homestead where it was made into steel.
That era is long gone, but Allegheny County, which in 2005 bought the 168-acre land parcel where the Carrie Furnace had operated for 102 years, is in the final stages of environmental cleanup and expects to start marketing the land for redevelopment this year.
"We have to move our economic development back along the Monongahela where we have all these brownfields. We just have to clean them up and business will come," said County Executive Dan Onorato.
The county currently is seeking about $12 million in federal funding to build a flyover ramp from the Rankin Bridge onto the site. In addition, county officials say they will soon start the installation of water lines, sewer lines and storm sewers to the site -- basically the final step in preparation to sell the land.
"We are very close to getting our environmental clearance from the state Department of Environmental Protection," said Bob Hurley, deputy director of development and business for the county's Economic Development Department.
Environmental clearance, Mr. Hurley said, means that the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County can then issue a nationwide request for proposals from developers who might be interested in acquiring all or parts of the land.
County officials, who say they've been fielding calls from potential investors in the last few years, said the county has invested about $7.2 million in acquisition, environmental engineering, site design and remediation of the property.
But the biggest costs of the project -- about $28 million for other infrastructure upgrades and about $7 million for grading the site -- will ultimately be incurred by private developers, Mr. Hurley said. Much of the site also will have to be filled with new dirt to raise certain parts of its sewer system above the flood plane.
County officials envision a mix of riverfront housing, light industrial manufacturing and office space at the site. They also hope to establish a steel heritage museum to showcase the existing furnaces on a 25-acre section that the federal government has already declared a historical site.
Bound by the Monongahela, two CSX rail lines that run along its back side on River and North Braddocksfield avenues, Carrie Furnace was built in 1881 as part of the Homestead Works mill owned by U.S. Steel.
The two blast furnaces still standing -- Carrie 6 and Carrie 7-- were built in 1907 and remained in operation until 1978. U.S. Steel closed all its operations at the site in 1983 and the Park Corp. acquired it in 1988.
But when Park, a Cleveland developer, offered to sell the site to the county for $5.75 million, Mr. Onorato said he took the deal because the land swath, if developed well, could be a major income generator for communities like Rankin and Swissvale.
"It has all the things that investors are looking for. It's only a few miles outside Downtown Pittsburgh, and it's easily accessible by water, by rail, and the East Busway," Mr. Onorato said of the site, which also has a Duquesne Light substation on its grounds.
A small portion of the site lies within the city of Pittsburgh, and the county has purchased more chunks of land in Munhall and Whitaker to complement the development officials envision in this section of the Mon Valley.
The site sat untouched for many years, and the two furnaces still standing became a post-industrial playground of sorts for graffiti artists, particularly one, "THOR," who left his imprint all over much of the rusted structure. A giant deer head made out of steel scraps still straddles the side of the furnaces.
In a walking tour of the property last week, Mr. Onorato pointed toward Homestead, where the 430 acres that once were the grounds of the Homestead Works of U.S. Steel were converted for use into an open-air shopping and entertainment complex -- The Waterfront -- which opened in 1999.
"We don't want to build the same shopping center here that was built on the other side of the river," he said.
In the end, the old Carrie Furnace site is more likely to look like the old LTV mill site on the South Side, Mr. Onorato said. That site is now home to the SouthSide Works that features the UPMC Sports Performance Complex and offices for the Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh football teams.
The region's FBI headquarters is also there, which has a 34-acre retail and entertainment district developed by the Soffer Organization, as well as office buildings and residential units.
The development plan for Carrie Furnace includes the construction of a bike trail that would weave through the property and cross the Monongahela into Munhall and Whitaker via an old hot metal bridge that is currently not in service.
That bridge, which connects the site to Route 837, will be renovated and reopened to traffic, much like what happened with the Hot Metal Bridge that connects the SouthSide Works to Second Avenue in Hazelwood.
What will be known as the Steel Valley Trail will tie into the Great Allegheny Passage along Route 837 when the unfinished portion of that trail is eventually completed. The Steel Valley Trail also will connect to the trails at Duck Hollow in Squirrel Hill, providing access to Frick Park.
The county is working with three firms, Chester Engineers, L. Robert Kimball & Associates and GAI Consultants Inc., to design and develop the property until it is ready for marketing.
The county also is in talks with Rankin, Swissvale, Braddock and North Braddock officials about a joint development agreement, which among other things would determine how the communities could share revenues generated by the site in the form of property taxes.
Mr. Onorato contends that redeveloping the brownfields must go hand-in-hand with rebuilding the communities as well.
And that is why his economic development team has infused about $40 million of Community Development Block Grants to build new housing and streetscape renovations in communities along the Monongahela from Braddock to McÂKeesport, he said.
At the moment, the Carrie Furnace site serves as a staging area for the ongoing $60 million renovation of the Rankin Bridge, which is scheduled for completion early next year.
Coupled with the $36 million renovation of the Homestead Grays Bridge, which was completed in 2007, Mr. Onorato said this part of the Mon Valley is well-positioned for an economic reawakening of sorts, especially because of the Obama administration's federal stimulus program.
"What we're trying to do here is essentially the kind of project that [President Barack] Obama meant when he talked about reinvesting in urban America," Mr. Onorato said.
"Right now, the development of Carrie Furnace is my key economic development project, but we're not stopping here. We're going all the way down the Monongahela."