Allegheny County agencies launch Pittsburgh airport development plan
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A 195-acre tract of land at Pittsburgh International Airport could be the next big development site in Allegheny County, with plans to designate it as a world trade center filled with office buildings, research and development space, a hotel and jet hangars.
The county's airport and redevelopment authorities are working together to develop the parcel, which sits on a bluff just west of the passenger terminal and its parking lots.
Randy Forister, the airport authority's senior director of development, said planners envision more than 1 million square feet of office space, a couple of research and development buildings, and as many as six corporate hangars with ramps to a nearby taxiway.
The airport authority is hoping to build a connector from the site to the terminal's landside building.
It also is planning to reroute part of the Montour Trail onto the property.
"It's really converting a site that does not have any marketable use into one that could be a world-class" development for the region, Mr. Forister said.
The land already is part of a foreign trade zone, which allows companies to import goods, create products and resell them outside the United States without having to pay import fees.
The airport authority and the county also plan to designate the complex as a licensed World Trade Center recognized by the World Trade Centers Association, with the goal of helping to facilitate international business, trade and investment.
Dennis Davin, the county's economic development director, said organizations like the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and VisitPittsburgh as well as others in the county and the region could have offices on site to help promote international business.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is pushing for the World Trade Center designation "and thinks it would be an opportune time to develop this" given the publicity and accolades the city has received over the ppast few years, Mr. Davin said.
He added there is potential to do a development at the site similar to what was done on another piece of airport land with the construction of the new Dick's Sporting Goods headquarters. That complex includes a jet hangar with direct access to an airport taxiway.
The airport authority is seeking a $15 million redevelopment assistance capital grant from the state to help pay the cost of preparing the site for development.
Mr. Forister said the land was once used for coal mining and must be cleaned up. Part of the property also was used as a garbage dump.
While the county has addressed that in the past, there is still more clean-up work needed. In all, Mr. Forister estimated clean-up and site preparation costs at $32 million.
If the authority gets the $15 million, it could begin clearing and cleaning up the site within six months of the award. Mr. Forister said clean-up and site grading could take up to three years.
He said it is a "little premature" to begin marketing the site for development, although he added the airport authority has had "some conversations" in the past about possible deals involving the land.
However, he said he has not had any conversations with energy companies or U.S. Steel about potentially locating on the property.
Aided by the Marcellus Shale boom, some energy companies are looking for more space in the region. U.S. Steel also is considering a possible move out of the U.S. Steel Tower Downtown when its lease expires in 2017.
Mr. Forister said he envisions a "mix of large companies, small companies, international companies, domestic companies" as part of the complex. "We expect to have a true mix of companies here," he said.
A world trade center was part of a vision cast by John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina, during a conference held last year to help guide development around the airport.
Mr. Kasarda urged airport and county officials to consider developing an "aerotropolis" around Pittsburgh International featuring manufacturing and distribution facilities, entertainment and retail, convention and exhibition space, and office buildings.
First Published July 10, 2012 12:00 am