New project in works for LTV site in Hazelwood

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The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority is considering $80 million to $90 million in tax increment financing, possibly the largest such package in city history, to help jump start development at the long dormant former LTV coke works site in Hazelwood.

URA board members are expected to vote Thursday on the preliminary steps needed to get the TIF rolling to fund roads, utilities, parks and other public improvements on the 178-acre site, the city's last brownfield, along the Monongahela River.

Infrastructure work would lay the foundation for a proposed $900 million mixed-use development. It would include more than 2 million square feet of new office and research and development space and as many as 1,200 units of housing, either townhouses, condos or apartments.

The site is owned by Almono LP, a consortium made up of the Benedum, Richard King Mellon and McCune foundations and the Heinz Endowments, and managed by the Regional Industrial Development Corp. The Almono name is derived from the city's three rivers -- the Allegheny, Mon and Ohio.

PG graphic: Map of proposed development
(Click image for larger version)

Don Smith, RIDC president, said the TIF is "fundamental" to the ability of Almono to redevelop the property, which sits between the river and Second Avenue in the heart of Hazelwood.

"The remediation and infrastructure requirements are so vast it just wouldn't be possible to do it without support for the infrastructure that needs to go in," he said.

While the site has been targeted for development for more than a decade, work has been stymied by plans for the Pittsburgh link of the Mon-Fayette Expressway, which is now on hold, and contamination that took time to remediate.

A bid by UPMC to invest as much as $800 million at the site for a vaccine development center that would have employed 1,000 people fell through in the summer 2011. Carnegie Mellon University's Field Robotics Center now occupies an old round house on the property.

Mr. Smith said the foundations, which purchased the site for $10 million in 2002, are prepared to fund additional work if the TIF is approved by the city, the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the county.

Almono hopes to begin some infrastructure-related activity this spring and get started on "vertical development" in 2014. Mr. Smith said it could take 10 to 15 years for a full build out of the site.

"We think that we have a plan now that meets all city planning and development prerogatives. It can be a development that the city and the entire region can be proud of," he said.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said in a statement the development of the site would "continue our efforts to connect our neighborhoods to Pittsburgh's most beautiful natural assets, our riverfronts."

"There has been tremendous neighborhood investment on both sides of the Monongahela River over the last few years and the much-anticipated transformation of the Hazelwood site will build on this momentum, creating thousands of new jobs and renewing a neighborhood in the process," he said.

City Councilman Corey O'Connor, who represents Hazelwood, said he expects support from his colleagues for the tax increment financing despite the controversy over a proposed TIF of up to $50 million for Riverfront Landing, a $400 million to $500 million Buncher Co. development in the Strip District. Buncher announced Tuesday that it no longer would seek the financing, which was being held up by Councilman Patrick Dowd.

Mr. O'Connor said the Almono development has the chance to generate new tax revenue and jobs for the city and bring new life to Hazelwood. Almono has estimated the development could create more than 3,000 jobs and increase real estate tax revenue from $100,000 to $11 million.

"This is a huge plum for an area that hasn't been able to catch a break for a while. This is a big break," Mr. O'Connor said.

He said there are also plans to help Hazelwood residents prepare resumes and get computer training for potential employment at the former LTV site.

"I believe there will be support for this because of the impact it is going to have on the East End corridor, the neighborhood of Hazelwood and the connecting neighborhoods as well," he said.

Tax increment financing works by earmarking for a period of years a sizeable portion of the tax revenue generated by development to pay for infrastructure and other public improvements. The percentage that would be diverted to pay for infrastructure related to the Hazelwood development has yet to be determined, said Yarone Zober, URA board chairman.

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