Menu Contact/Location

New Hope for Jeannette Glass Co. Plant Site

Thursday, July 29, 2010
By Candy Woodall – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Robert Carter drives past it every day. He sees the blemish on the city landscape and questions the fate of the old Jeannette Glass plant.

A city firefighter for the past 36 years and the mayor for the past six months, Mr. Carter is quite familiar with Jeannette Glass Co.

“I remember when it was booming,” he said.

He remembers when the plant got so busy churning out coffee cups and bowls that the fire department had to go there to cool the tanks.

He remembers when it closed in 1983.

And he remembers getting a call to put out flames when a fire ravaged the plant for 22 hours in the mid-1980s.

Even though he still wears a fire helmet, it’s the hat he wears as mayor that is causing him to put out flames of a different kind these days.

In a 3-2 vote, city council last week approved a trip to New York City, during which Mr. Carter and solicitor Scott Avolio will try to calm a decades-long dispute between Abraham Zion and officials throughout Westmoreland County.

Mr. Zion bought the Jeannette glass plant for $4 million in 1983. Since then, local leaders have engaged with him in a number of fits and starts, hoping to do something with the old facility that is now falling apart. It has been exposed to the elements and is “a total eyesore,” according to the mayor.

John Skiavo, president of nonprofit Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland County, said officials got close a few times, but talks ultimately went nowhere. He last communicated with Mr. Zion in 2007, he said.

“We had meetings for five years straight, but in the end, [Mr. Zion] was never agreeable,” he said.

Mr. Zion, 85, was not available for comment. An assistant in his New York office said he has a medical condition and doctors appointments.

That medical condition is why Mr. Carter is traveling to him.

The mayor said Mr. Zion first reached out to him six months ago with a phone call to congratulate him on his election.

“Out of nowhere, I got a call. It knocked me off my heels a little. He definitely caught my attention,” Mr. Carter said.

Mr. Zion told him he wanted to do something with the property, and Mr. Carter saw it as a breakthrough.

“It’s been a long time coming, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to get that property cleaned up,” he said.

No specific plans are in place for their visit, but Mr. Carter said he hopes to go “within the next month, as soon as possible.”

The property sits in the heart of the city like a monument, with rusted remnants reminding passers-by what Jeannette was in its heyday. It sits on about 32 acres on two parcels between Chambers and Bullitt avenues facing Sixth Street, with an appearance starkly different from the development going up around it.

As part of a $31 million effort to revamp the city, 25 single-family homes and a nine-unit townhouse complex have been built along South Sixth Street.

“There’s a major project in front of [the glass plant],” Mr. Carter said. “When people look out their back doors, they see an old, rundown industrial yard. And I don’t want people to think this is some old, rundown community.”

Getting the property cleaned up is his first priority.

“I’m not going to New York with stars in my eyes. I’m going on a mission,” he said.

The mayor and Councilman Jeff DePalma, who voted in favor of the trip, noted that Mr. Zion has been a good taxpayer, doling out $68,000 a year in property taxes — more than $1 million in the past 20-plus years — and can only hope he will be as diligent with the actual property.

“I honestly can’t read his mind. [Mr. Zion] has just never seemed totally determined to do anything with the property,” said Mr. Skiavo, of Economic Growth Connection. “That property is a real nuisance for the city and can become a real detriment as it further deteriorates.”

Three years ago, Mr. Skiavo and colleagues, through their redevelopment organizations, offered to buy the property for about $500,000 and clean it up, which would have cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. Mr. Zion would have been relieved of all liability and able to sell the scraps.

“He entertained the possibility, but turned us down,” Mr. Skiavo said.

In 2007, Mr. Skiavo wrote a report to city council, saying the only avenue left was to force Mr. Zion to clean up the property through enforced ordinances and codes.

The history of failed business relations with Mr. Zion is why councilmen Mike Clark and Ron Dinsmore voted against the trip to New York.

Mr. Carter said he’s aware of the history, but has to try.

“I have a lot of naysayers, but I can’t live in the past. I can’t change yesterday.

“That property has just sat there for years and years and years. This is an opportunity to change that.”

Mr. Skiavo said the property could probably house a commercial or light manufacturing facility.

Mr. Carter drives past the dilapidated plant and envisions green space, a park setting, small specialty shops, something to promote the city rather than put a damper on it.

“One way or another, when that meeting is over, I will have a defined answer about what is going on with that property,” he said.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633