Fundraising has started to redevelop city's last brownfield for housing, business and retail
December 25, 2011 3:00 PM
Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette photos
The old LTV coke works site in Hazelwood.
The old LTV coke works site in Hazelwood will be redeveloped.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Almono LLC, the consortium of foundations that owns the former LTV coke works in Hazelwood, has begun fundraising to build new infrastructure on the 178-acre site for housing, retail, offices and clean manufacturing.
"It is going to move forward, finally," said Don Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp., which manages the site for Almono. "We are very confident we are going to be able to facilitate development."
The first phase of the campaign needs $25 million, which would come from a variety of sources including federal and state governments, he said.
The site stretches between the Monongahela River and Second Avenue from near the Hot Metal Bridge into the heart of Hazelwood. It is the city's last brownfield.
The vast area has been as obvious a location for development as its former brownfield kin across the river -- Southside Works and the Waterfront in Homestead -- but the possibility that the Mon-Fayette Expressway would pass through has been cited as the inhibitor of investment. The site also was contaminated.
The land has cleared Pennsylvania's Land Recycling environmental standards, and the owner group has hired an engineering firm to do a traffic study, said Tim White, RIDC's assistant vice president for development.
Completing the Pittsburgh link of the Mon-Fayette is on hold for now because there is no funding. Even with funding, an existing environmental impact statement would have to be updated for the road to proceed.
"Our activity is dormant," said Tom Fox, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. "If we ever got the funding to reopen our activity on this project, we would try to design a road to bring maximum advantages" to the places along its route.
Mr. Smith said the waiting is over: "We are moving forward as if [the expressway extension] is not going to happen."
The development plan defines the land in four zones -- residential, with a street grid that would connect with the rest of the neighborhood; industrial; office and commercial, and a green zone in the middle "because of topography challenges," said Mr. Smith. "It may look flat from the road, but it isn't."
The most recent hope for 30 acres of the site was dashed last summer when UPMC ended its bid to invest upward of $800 million for a vaccine development center that would have employed 1,000 people.
"We just move on," said Jim Richter, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative, a nonprofit community development organization. "I am cautiously optimistic that the spring and summer will show results we haven't seen in the past by virtue of the new master plan [by Rothschild Doyno Collaborative] being completed."
Architect Ken Doyno led the effort. "Our charge was to develop a vision that connected the community, welcomed investment to the site and made sense of all the physical realities, which are many -- railroads, infrastructure, old buildings," he said. "We wanted to interweave and connect every possible place with the community that surrounds it."
This development will bring housing up to Tecumseh Street and extend Hazelwood Avenue down into it. It also will connect to the trail system, Mr. White said.
"We have put a big focus on learning from other developments so that this site is not" isolated, he said.
J&L Steel built and operated on the site from 1884 until 1974, when LTV bought the plant. It closed in 1997.
The Benedum Foundation, Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation and McCune Foundation created Almono LLC and bought the site for $10 million in 2002.
In those nine years, a lot has changed, Mr. Smith said.
The expressway was anticipated at that time. "We thought the railroad might abandon some of the lines on the site," he said. "Now that doesn't seem like it will happen, so we're proceeding with the one [railroads] and not the other [the expressway].
"We are contemplating some industrial uses so the rail could be useful, and if there were an opportunity for dual use to include passengers from Hazelwood through Oakland to Lawrenceville, that would be tremendous improvement for Hazelwood."
Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center occupies the old J&L round house, where rail cars were repaired when J&L operated its own railroad between its mills on the South Side and in Hazelwood. The robotics center uses roads on the site to test automated vehicles. Sculptor Tim Kaulen is working in the bar mill using reclaimed steel. Construction companies have used the site to store equipment and as staging areas, including Trumbull Industries in its work on the subway tunnel under the Allegheny River. Fill from that and other projects has been trucked to the site to raise the land above the 100-year flood plain.
"There are no more brownfields available," said Mr. Doyno, "so it's just a matter of time for this site. I think we are on cusp of growing again. We have the capacity to make that come true, and it is starting to get exciting."