Steel-Town Brownfields Becoming Waterside Homes, Offices

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
10 May 2011
By Tory N. Parrish

Tom and Deneen Loughran like living in Pleasant Hills, but the empty-nesters have their sights set on a change: They are buying a $375,000 house in Oakmont along the Allegheny River.

The couple found the Edgewater at Oakmont development attractive because of the diversity of homes it will include and their ability to customize a two-story carriage home, said Deneen Loughran, 56. "It's just a beautiful, beautiful floor plan," she said.

Edgewater is one of two dozen projects taking shape — together worth more than $500 million — that officials said are driving riverfront redevelopment in Allegheny County. Many are on remediated brownfields, or decontaminated industrial sites. Edgewater at Oakmont was home to the Edgewater Steel Co. plant that closed 10 years ago.

In all, 185 miles of riverfront properties line the Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio and Youghiogheny rivers in Allegheny County, says a 2010 county report on riverfront development.

"Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have a benefit because we have miles and miles of riverfront," said Dennis Davin, director of the county's Economic Development department.

The redevelopment of riverfront sites often is touted as a way to attract industry and people, improve aesthetics and boost tax collections.

Sometimes, it can do more. Chuck Starrett, an administrator with the development group Steel Valley Enterprise Zone Corp., pointed to The Waterfront as an example.

"It changed the image of people in this area," he said.

The Waterfront, a large retail, residential and entertainment development completed nearly a decade ago, primarily in Homestead, sits along the Monongahela River on U.S. Steel Corp.'s former Homestead Works property. Most of the property, 1.4 million square feet, is owned by Beachwood, Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty.

'Location, location, location'

In Oakmont, the Edgewater development will cost $100 million and cover 34 acres, said Brett Malky of EQA Landmark Communities of Bridgeville, which is developing the project with Kacin Companies Inc. of Murrysville.

It will include 240 residential units — townhouses and cottage homes — and 45,000 square feet of retail and office space. The project, financed by private lenders and a $7 million loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority, is to be completed in four years.

"I'm an urban planner by training, and it really goes to the fundamentals of the way we formed as a nation and to what have always been the principal drivers of real estate — namely 'location, location, location,' " he said.

Loughran agreed. Oakmont offers the right mix of traditional neighborhood charm and cosmopolitan feel, she said.

"It's really self-contained. It's almost like a city in the suburbs," said Loughran, who said she and her husband, 57, expect to close on their home in September.

In Pittsburgh, along the Monongahela River, location translates into a valuable connection between Downtown and Oakland. Redevelopment related to technology, medicine and bioscience, the specialty of Oakland's universities, can link to the city's commerce core, said Lisa Schroeder, president of Riverlife, a nonprofit formed to maximize use of Pittsburgh's riverfronts. The Pittsburgh Technology Center on Second Avenue in South Oakland is nicely located between the two.

Quality of life figures in the riverfront development. Brownfields-turned-living quarters include Washington's Landing and the North Shore on the Allegheny, the SouthSide Works on the Monongahela, and Summerset at Frick Park near Nine Mile Run, the largest residential development established in Pittsburgh since World War II, Schroeder said.

Since 2001, Riverlife has been leading or supporting several riverfront redevelopment projects in Pittsburgh within Three Rivers Park, whose boundaries are the West End Bridge over the Ohio River, the 31st Street Bridge over the Allegheny River and the Hot Metal Bridge over the Monongahela River.

Three Rivers Park is intended to be a green riverfront development connecting with trails, bridges, bikeways and marinas, Schroeder said.

Pittsburgh's Allegheny Riverfront Vision Plan, published in February, looks at redevelopment along the Allegheny, from 11th Street to Highland Park, 40 to 50 years out, said Stephen Quick, a principal at architectural firm Perkins Eastman, project manager for the plan.

Reconnecting neighborhoods to riverfronts is one of the drivers of the plan, said Rob Stephany, executive director of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Paying for it

Public-private partnerships paid for many of the larger riverfront developments in the county, said F. Brooks Robinson, spokesman for the Regional Industrial Development Corp.

One partnership is the group of nonprofits developing a 178-acre Hazelwood property occupied by Jones and Laughlin Steel Co. from 1884 to 1974, when it was bought by Ling Temco Vought Coke Works. The steel plant closed in 1997.

Almono LP, made up of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation and McCune Foundation, bought the tract for $10 million in 2002.

Managed by the RIDC, the site is intended to have residential, clean-industrial and office developments, as well as green space, RIDC President Don Smith Jr. said. Almono LP hopes to begin construction of buildings next year, he said.

Within Pittsburgh, the Almono site is the last former steel site of its size to be developed, said Sabina Deitrick, director of the Urban and Regional Analysis Program at the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Urban and Social Research.

Although federal and state funding cutbacks continue, it is difficult to say whether there will be less public assistance for redevelopment, Davin said.

"We have not seen a real reduction in our deal flow," he said. "We're still busy."

County assistance can include tax-increment financing, through which taxing bodies agree to divert some money from a project's increased assessment value to pay for infrastructure improvements over a period of time, usually 20 years.

Development of River's Edge of Oakmont, a multi-use project adjacent to the Edgewater at Oakmont, can't proceed without $8 million in tax-increment financing, said Mike Pehur, a development services manager with Pittsburgh-based GSP Consulting, which is assisting with the process.

Brooks and Blair Waterfront Properties plan for the $85 million development on 28 acres to include 168 single-family homes, townhouses, condos and apartments and 14,000 square feet of commercial space.

Allegheny County, the Riverview School District and Oakmont are considering the pros and cons of approving the tax scheme.

The economic impact of the developments in Oakmont will occur slowly, but likely would be substantial because of homes being added to a housing inventory that includes century-old houses, and because of demand for homes with living space primarily on one floor, borough Manager Bruce D. Jamison said.

Tory N. Parrish can be reached at or 412-380-5662.