Sites in the Strip District and Findlay appear to be the favorites in the search by U.S. Steel for a new headquarters, although the steelmaker still could end up staying in its longtime home Downtown.
The 37-acre tract in the Strip is owned by the Buncher Co. and is part of a proposed office and residential development now tied up before city council. The other frontrunner is a 116-acre parcel off McClaren Road owned by District Judge Anthony Saveikis.
At the same time, the steelmaker has not ruled out the possibility of remaining in U.S. Steel Tower, the 64-story skyscraper on Grant Street that has been its home since 1971. The corporation will have the ability to move elsewhere, if it so desires, when its lease expires five years from now.
One property that apparently has not made the short list is the 28-acre former Civic Arena site. That's despite the fact that U.S. Steel CEO and chairman John Surma has a $2 million stake in the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that has development rights to the land.
Since the news broke last spring that U.S. Steel was considering a move from its longtime Downtown headquarters, the company has played its cards close to the vest.
Asked about the apparent favorites for the headquarters, the steelmaker, in a statement, said, "We are exploring alternatives for the location of our headquarters in order to arrive at the best long-term business solution for our company when our lease in the U.S. Steel Tower expires in 2017."
Earlier this year, U.S. Steel surveyed its employees about their preferences regarding a site for a headquarters and about 80 percent of them responded. The company has not released the results.
U.S. Steel reportedly is weighing a traditional Downtown office setting against a campus-like setting, one that the land in the Strip or in Findlay could accommodate. It is said to be looking for 800,000 to 1 million square feet of space, enough not only for the 1,800 employees in U.S. Steel Tower but also for workers now at other locations in the region.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald have appealed to the company to stay Downtown. Some corporate leaders have done so as well. Mr. Fitzgerald has said having U.S. Steel in the Golden Triangle strengthens not only the urban core but the region as a whole.
The corporation currently occupies 471,000 square feet of space in U.S. Steel Tower. It is the building's second-largest tenant behind UPMC, which leases 780,000 square feet of space and has its name atop the skyscraper.
Mr. Fitzgerald said Monday he has had ongoing discussions with the company about its search for a headquarters, adding that the goal remains "to keep them in Downtown Pittsburgh."
"We continue to work with them. We want to assist them and help them to prosper and grow in this region," he said. "We want to partner with them in doing that."
Mr. Fitzgerald declined to discuss what specific sites U.S. Steel may be considering. "I think they're weighing all of their options," he said. "They have lease considerations at the present site. I think they're going through their due diligence and working with us in the community."
He said local leaders have been trying to interest the company in the former Civic Arena site that borders the Golden Triangle and the Hill District.
"That's part of the mix we're talking to them about," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "That's one of the areas we would be interested in having them look at."
Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mr. Ravenstahl, said the mayor has met several times with Mr. Surma and other U.S. Steel executives to encourage them to remain in the city and "will continue to do so as the search narrows."
"U.S. Steel is an important part of Pittsburgh history, present and future, and it's important that they stay in Pittsburgh," she said.
Tom Ballestrieri, Buncher president and CEO, wouldn't say whether he has talked to U.S. Steel officials about locating in the Strip. Buncher's proposed Riverfront Landing project would feature at least 750 units of housing and retail and office development.
"We don't talk about prospective clients and what they might be looking at," he said.
City Councilman Patrick Dowd has refused to submit legislation for up to $50 million in tax increment financing for the Strip District project because of questions about the size of the plan and how the money would be used.
U.S. Steel currently leases space for its transportation, engineering and environmental groups in the Buncher-owned Penn Liberty Plaza building in the Strip District. Buncher, Mr. Balestrieri said, has had "a long relationship" with the corporation.
Engineers reportedly were at the Findlay site near Pittsburgh International Airport earlier this year inspecting the land for an unnamed client. But if U.S. Steel has identified it as a favorite for a potential relocation, it's news to Mr. Saveikis. The district judge said he had no idea whether the company was interested in his property.
"I have nothing to report," he said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262. First Published September 11, 2012 4:30 AM