Big Changes Could Be Coming For Pittsburgh’s Riverfront
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Two of the last, big riverfront sites remaining in the City of Pittsburgh may not be empty for much longer.
Big plans are in the works for the old LTV site in Hazelwood, and for acres of riverside parking lots in the Strip District owned by the Buncher Company.
What’s on the drawing board for Hazelwood represents the biggest riverfront project in our region since the Waterfront in Homestead was built more than a dozen years ago.
But, don’t expect another “Waterfront.” Since then, ideas on how best to use our riverfronts have been refined.
Homestead fell on hard times after its big, riverside economic engine – U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works – closed in 1986. Homestead’s hard times have largely remained even though, where the mill used to be, The Waterfront now sprawls along the Mon River with stores big and small, restaurants, residences and offices.
The tax revenue generated by The Waterfront has saved Homestead from bankruptcy. It’s a retail success story. But, there’s not much of a physical connection to Homestead – the railroad tracks in between the borough and the development don’t help.
Also, there’s not much of a connection to the river – it’s far from the heart of the development, and there’s only a trail along the water.
Homestead Mayor Betty Esper said The Waterfront’s new ownership group is looking to improve on both fronts.
“The Waterfront was one step in our history of brownfield redevelopment,” Lisa Schroeder of Riverlife, a public-private partnership that advocates for effective riverfront redevelopment, said. “It was a radical turnaround for its day, but you’re right, there’s an eight-lane roadway in between the river and the development. And now, we’ve learned we can actually face the river and make the riverfront be the premium location.”
Across the Mon and a little bit down river, they intend to put that lesson into action.
“We’re going to make Hazelwood a riverfront community again,” Don Smith of the private, non-profit economic development concern RIDC said.
Smith is leading the redevelopment of the old LTV site in Hazelwood – now called “Almono” – for Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. The plan calls for offices and light industrial facilities, as they want the site to again be a job generator for the area.
But, they also want it to be a desirable place to live, and varied types of residences are envisioned. And they want it to be fun – with green space, playing fields, maybe a marina. It will be “a riverfront development, rather than a development that happens to be on a river,” Smith said.
Architect Ken Doyno of the Strip District firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative led development of the Almono master plan and says embracing the water has always been a focus.
“It’s why we’re here, that river. It’s the reason we’re all here as a city so it makes a lot of sense to just go with the flow as it were,” Doyno said.
The plan is to connect Hazelwood’s existing street grid through the old mill property, right down to the river.
“It’s how things come perpendicular down to the river to connect to the shoreline that brings that value deep into the neighborhood.” Doyno said. “That’s a new concept for Pittsburgh – how do we get that value deep into the neighborhoods?”
Riverlife’s Schroeder said it’s exciting to consider how Almono will transform not just the empty mill site, but the areas around it.
“You’ll have, ultimately, a seamless feel and Hazelwood will be a bigger place than it is now,” Schroeder said.
Today, the Almono site remains very raw. There are mounds of fill to be spread, road and storm water infrastructure work to be done. Smith said public investment in that infrastructure will help things ramp up.
There is no firm timetable yet on when construction might begin, but the goal is to begin construction in 2014.
“We really believe that a riverfront location this close to Downtown, this close to the universities and hospitals in Oakland, is just ideally suited. And we just need to have that kind of vision and that faith to make the investment to make it happen,” Smith said.
Strip District: “Riverfront Landing”
When you’re shopping or eating in the Strip District, the fact there’s a river close-by is probably lost on you. Schroeder thinks that’s a lost opportunity.
“When you face the river, when you embrace the river and open up the riverfront as the front door, it benefits everyone,” Schroeder said. “Property values rise, developers come, and more and more people every year are coming to the riverfronts as a place to celebrate and play.”
Embracing the river and connecting it to the Strip District are key parts of the Buncher Company’s plan for what it calls “Riverfront Landing.” It will be a redevelopment of the acres of riverside parking lots the company owns in the Strip.
Schroeder calls the Buncher site, “One of the most exciting parcels of waterfront property anywhere in North America. It feels like the missing tooth between Downtown and Pittsburgh’s great neighborhoods running all along the Allegheny riverfront.”
Buncher CEO Tom Balestrieri said a signature of the redevelopment will be a “piazza” linking Smallman Street to the river, which will be a fun, public space as big as Market Square, only rectangular.
There is, however something in the way.
The old Produce Terminal Building is a barrier between the bustle of the Strip District and the potential of the riverfront. Buncher’s solution? Raze a third of it, to allow the piazza to be an extension of 17th Street down to the river.
Stretching out from the piazza would be new buildings housing offices and residences and maybe a hotel or two.
However, Balestrieri said they’re going for a mainly residential vibe.
“It’ll feel like a neighborhood,” he said. “There will be people that will be living here. They’ll be within walking distance of whatever activities there are in the Produce Terminal and the Strip District.”
Becky Rodgers, Executive Director of the group Neighbors in the Strip, said she finds members mostly optimistic about the Buncher plan, especially the idea of more people living in the Strip.
“There are people that are not for it,” Rodgers said, “but change is hard for everyone.”
As for losing a third of the Produce Terminal?
“That’s a hard one. But taking off a part of it to save the rest might be worth it,” Rodgers said.
She said the piazza move would allow is a very exciting idea, and she’s already discussed partnering with Buncher to use the space for promotions and festivals.
Riverlife has also had some issues with the plan. It’s asked for a bigger riverfront buffer zone and room for parks and playgrounds and hopes to have a continuing dialogue.
Until early this year, Buncher was seeking public investment in the infrastructure improvements. But after that ran into opposition, Buncher pulled the request and said it would go it alone.
Construction could begin next year and Balestrieri said people should understand that they “get it.”
He said he grew up in the Strip District, in his family’s business.
“I worked these produce yards when all this area was filled with railroad tracks. So, I’m extraordinarily sensitive to it. Things do change, but it’s still going to be a place where people are going to want to gravitate. We want what’s best for the city and this is kind of a legacy project for us,” Balestrieri said.