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Second chance for Carrie Furnace mill site.

County to buy 137 acres of abandoned mill property, hoping to create a model for redevelopment

By Ann Belser,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

After four years of negotiations that spanned two Allegheny County administrations, Chief Executive Dan Onorato got to announce the prize: The county has agreed to buy an abandoned blast furnace and 137 acres of possibly contaminated land around it for $5.75 million.

Like a home buyer looking at a fixer-upper, it’s not the problems that the county is looking at when it sees the site, most of which is located in Rankin and Swissvale. It’s the potential.

“This is going to be the cornerstone of what we do with old industrial sites,” Onorato said on a hot day that was reminiscent of the blast furnace. “We have thousands of acres of waterfront just sitting there dormant.”

The deal also includes some land in Whitaker and Munhall.

Before money is exchanged on the deal, which should be in the next 90 days, the county will begin soil testing to see how much cleanup the site needs, said Dennis Davin, director of the county’s Department of Economic Development.

He said the cleanup should take a year to 18 months before development begins.

Yesterday’s announcement was made under a tent with the old blast furnaces behind Onorato. He said the county is not only going to revitalize the site, but also the communities surrounding it.

Talking about The Waterfront, a development of shops, restaurants, a movie theater, offices and apartments in Homestead, Munhall and West Homestead, he said, “I personally love what’s going on across the river … We’re going to duplicate it up and down the river.”

Plans for development of the Carrie Furnace area were drawn up by Dick Schmitz for the consultants MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni in 2001, when Jim Roddey was the county’s chief executive. The county has negotiated with Kelly Park, vice president of Park Corp., since then to buy the land.

The money for the purchase, $41,970 an acre, is coming from the state, which gave the county a $6 million grant that has to be matched with federal or local money. Davin said much of that will be from federal money designated for cleaning up brownfields and from federal Community Development Block Grants.

The land use plan calls for housing in Swissvale near the Pittsburgh line with a possible marina for recreational boaters near those homes. In Rankin, the old blast furnaces would be refurbished as part of a steel heritage historical site with a hotel and conference center to be built near the museum site.

Closer to Braddock, the plan calls for building office buildings with a large parking area nearby for commuters who want to park in Braddock and travel by bus, train or water taxis to Downtown. There also are plans for a bike trail through Braddock, Rankin and Swissvale.

Onorato said the county will not wait to start revitalizing the towns until it can build on the site. The county already is working with Braddock and Rankin officials to build housing.

In Braddock, a move to rejuvenate Braddock Avenue will include working with UPMC Braddock, which currently has an unattractive loading dock on the avenue, to develop a hospital entrance there. Small shops with apartments above them would be built along Braddock Avenue and light industry would be located between Braddock Avenue and the river and near the Edgar Thomson plant.

(Ann Belser can be reached at or 412-263-1699.)

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