Imagining a bright future for rusty relic of Pittsburgh's age of steel

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The road to the Carrie Furnace is a busted up concrete and dirt track. Crickets bounce like popcorn over knee-high grass and Queen Anne's lace, and the rusted hulk that went silent in 1982 now sprouts trees, its surfaces a palette of guerilla artwork and graffiti.

"Imagine," said Augie Carlino, president and CEO of the Steel Industry Heritage Corp., "coming here for a symphony concert someday."

The road to that event is longer and bumpier, but at a news conference and tour at the site Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato assured that access to and investment in 168 acres in Rankin and Swissvale -- including the 30-acre Carrie Furnace site -- will come.

The Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority will issue a request for proposals this fall for renovation of the furnace site into a historic park and museum and development of the rest of the land into residential and commercial space, Mr. Onorato said.

"There's a lot of interest already in 160-some acres bordering the city with riverfront access," he said.

The Carrie Furnace, once considered an obstacle to development, now sits as the centerpiece, said Ron Baraff, an archivist for the Steel Industry Heritage Corp. The organization acquired rights to the site from the county in June. It has been a national historic landmark since 2006.

Mr. Doyle is sponsoring legislation to establish a Steel Industry National Historic Site in Braddock, Munhall and Swissvale as part of the national park system.

A renovation of the furnace site will cost between $75 million and $100 million, including infrastructure costs, Mr. Carlino said.

The county's Redevelopment Authority has already extended stormwater lines to serve the entire property, Mr. Onorato said.

Morning tours will be offered on Aug. 28, Sept. 18 and Oct. 9 at 8:30, 9:15, 10 and 10:45 a.m. To reserve a space, call 412-464-4020 or visit www.riversofsteel.com.

Improvements to the Rankin Bridge would include vehicular ramp access to the site. "When that happens," Mr. Doyle said, "this site is going to take off."

Plans include a Carrie Furnace Riverfront Trail connection to existing bicycle trails, with eventual hook-up to the Great Allegheny Passage.

"For close to 15 years we were in a struggle to save these blast furnaces," said Mr. Carlino, referring to Carrie No. 6 and 7. "These furnaces will stand as a estament to a monumental industry. Fairly soon, you will see new roofs and the stabilization of the bigger buildings" on the site.

The Carrie Furnace historical park and museum will incorporate its remaining features, including the blowing engine house, power house, hoist house, stocking trestle, stock house, car dumper, ore bridge and furnaces.

"I want to thank Augie for keeping the pressure on for this historic park idea, because it would have been easy to just take it down," Mr. Onorato said. "I wanted to do that at first, but now I agree" with its preservation. "We can have it both ways, showing another generation what happened here."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at http://blogs.sites.post-gazette.com .


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