Corbett announces $7 million in state funds to aid development at Pittsburgh International Airport

At the turn of the new century, traffic was booming at the Pittsburgh International Airport, but a dearth of development along the airport corridor was a constant frustration for local and county officials. Now, despite a steep downturn in flights at the airport, the surrounding real estate market continues to gain momentum.

In a first step toward a significant expansion of the real estate inventory available to fuel that appetite, Gov. Tom Corbett showed up at the airport terminal Thursday, heralding a grant of $7 million to begin the transformation of nearly 200 acres now scarred by the ravages of abandoned coal mining.

Mr. Corbett joined local officials to announce the commitment of $7 million in state funds to seed development that airport officials hope will lure more than $200 million in private investment along with thousands of jobs over the next decade.

Mr. Corbett was accompanied in his election year announcement by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, state Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, and state Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon.

Airport officials said the release of the state funds meant that remediation work on the 195-acre brownfield site adjacent to the airport complex could begin within months. Site preparation could take between two and three years on land that includes abandoned coal mines.

“Today is a milestone,” said Mr. Corbett, calling it “a project well worth the investment of state dollars.”

Those dollars include $5 million in state economic development funds, $1 million from PennDOT for road work at the site, and $1 million from the Department of Environmental Protection to stabilize former mines and remove acid drainage from the site.

In the past, airport officials have projected total costs to prepare the site at $32 million. The county initially sought $15 million from the state to spur the project.

The budget for the balance of the site preparations remains in development, but Mr. Fitzgerald said that revenue from the natural gas lease at the airport could provide some of the support for the project. The airport authority has negotiated a lease with Consol Energy that is projected to yield hundreds of millions of dollars in royalty payments

Eventually, airport officials suggested that site could include extensive commercial office space with the possibility of adjacent hangars, allowing tenants direct access to airport taxiways.

The land is part of an overall foreign trade zone around the airport, meaning that firms could in theory benefit from favorable customs treatment of activity at the site, now dubbed the Pittsburgh International Airport World Trade Center.

Mr. Corbett and Mr. Fitzgerald also suggested the possibility of developing a second airport hotel on the property.

Randy Forister, the airport authority’s senior director of development, said the authority has had discussions with a number of potential office tenants and hotel developers but didn’t have any firm commitments for the private-sector projects that they hope will eventually populate the site.

The development is envisioned to include more that 1 million square feet of class A office space along with a 400-room hotel.

Mr. Corbett said the development offered the promise of being a significant part of an overall economic resurgence in the immediate region, along with the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Southern Beltway and the ethane cracker plant he hopes to attract to a nearby Beaver County site. While acknowledging that no final decisions have been made on the cracker plant, Mr. Corbett described himself as “bullish” on its prospects.

The site adjacent to the main airport complex has been the focus of other failed development proposals in the past. Most notably, former county Commissioners Mike Dawida and Bob Cranmer unveiled plans to use it as the site of a $400 million indoor auto racing facility.

Airport officials said the work on the brownfield cleanup could begin within months.

“Are we going to have that groundbreaking before Nov. 4?” Mr. Corbett said with a smile and a reference to the election day that will determine whether he receives a second term.

Politics editor James P. O’Toole: or 412-263-1562.

Politics editor James P. O'Toole: or 412-263-1562. First Published August 14, 2014 11:56 AM

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