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Brownfield Development in Pittsburgh
Recycling and Reuse of the Steel Industry's Abandoned Mills

Jerome N. Dettore
Acting Executive Director
Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, Pittsburgh was an engine of the American economy. The saying went, "As U.S. Steel goes, so goes the nation."

The abundance of natural resources found throughout this region, together with the critical combination of river transportation access and flat riverside acreage made it possible for heavy industry to move raw and manufactured materials in and out of the region by rail and barge.

For well over a hundred years, the steel and related support industries built massive facilities up and down the three rivers, often utilizing the most coveted property this region had to offer - the riverfronts. After all, those facilities were the lifeblood of the region and the single largest source of employment and municipal tax revenue.

But with the traumatic decline of the American steel industry in the 1970s and 80s, Western Pennsylvania found itself wondering what to do with thousands of acres of prime riverfront industrial property, much of it within or near the city limits. Suddenly and out of necessity, Pittsburgh urgently needed to redevelop its old industrial sites and develop new sites at critical locations. In the process, this region has become a laboratory for brownfield development and a model for the world.

Since the early 1980s, the Pittsburgh region has emerged as national model for brownfield development, with dozens of sites throughout Western Pennsylvania having been recycled for a variety of industrial, residential, recreational, and retail purposes.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, working together with private developers, the foundation community, state government, and the private sector, has successfully reclaimed and redeveloped numerous industrial sites since 1980 that had been laid to waste and all but abandoned. What's more, many were saddled with the added burden of environmental contamination caused by a century of industrial pollution.

Four riverfront brownfield sites in particular have not only returned to productive use, but are crown jewels of Pittsburgh's environmental transformation and spectacular examples of what can be achieved with vision and public-private cooperation.

Washington's Landing at Herr's Island

The first brownfield project undertaken was the former Herr's Island - now known as Washington's Landing - a 42-acre island located on the western bank of the Allegheny River.

For over 100 years, Herr's Island had been used as a rail stop for livestock and was a thriving regional meatpacking center. But by the mid-1970s, all that was left was an operating salvage yard and meat rendering plant. Abandoned stockyards, railroad tracks and other debris occupied over 34 acres. Noxious waste materials, traces of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and contaminated groundwater made the site virtually unusable.

After cleanup and a meticulous environmental remediation, the island was hazard-free by 1990 at a cost of approximately $2.5 million. Today, Washington's Landing is a unique waterfront resource - a center for commerce, manufacturing, recreation and upscale housing. The total development cost including public and private investment has exceeded $70 million and has created over 2,100 jobs. What was once a virtually taxless property now generates more than $1 million in revenues for the city.

Pittsburgh Technology Center

One of the first blast furnaces in Pittsburgh was the Eliza Furnace, later incorporated into a 48-acre mill along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. At one time, this mammoth factory contained coke ovens, blast furnaces, two blooming mills, two billet mills, a strip mill, and tar storage tanks.

After the mill was abandoned by Jones & Laughlin Steel (J&L) and demolished, the Urban Redevelopment Authority purchased the property in 1983 and converted it into the Pittsburgh Technology Center (PTC) to support the region's rapidly growing technology community. The site presented numerous environmental issues such as ferrous iron cyanide 25 feet below the surface, tar pits, 2,000 gallons of waste oil and 420,000 gallons of oily water. To clean up the site, oils and sludge were removed and the tar pits and tunnels were re-excavated to provide better support for new research and academic buildings that would soon be built on the site.

The Pittsburgh Technology Center is now a hub of innovation and the home of some of the world's most exciting and advanced academic and corporate technology research. More than 1,000 people work on this site which has become an attractive location for knowledge workers in Pittsburgh's new economy. The total development cost, including public and private investment, has exceeded $104 million, with more than $1 million in tax revenues generated annually.

South Side Works

Directly across the Monongahela River from the Pittsburgh Technology Center and connected by a newly rehabilitated railroad bridge, sits a former LTV Steel site. In 1993 the city purchased the 123-acre site that housed a former finishing mill. While this site didn't pose the kind of environmental hazards found at the J&L site across the river, there were heavy concentrations of iron cyanide metals, and some evidence of PCBs. Based on its experience in remediating PCBs from Herr's Island, the Urban Redevelopment Authority removed these same contaminants from this site.

Now called the South Side Works, this exciting mixed use development includes entertainment, retail and office, housing, research, development, and distribution. When fully completed, the total private investment in this project is expected to reach $250 million and will create up to 5,400 jobs. Currently, the city receives almost $3 million in annual real estate taxes and will eventually receive over $8 million.

Summerset at Frick Park

Nine Mile Run, formerly a 238-acre riverside slag dump for steel mills, is being transformed into a new traditional residential neighborhood called Summerset at Frick Park with 694 housing units on 138 acres of prepared land. Transforming the Nine Mile Run site posed three distinct challenges: grading and stabilization of 600,000 cubic yards of slag; reclamation and revegetation of 105 acres extending the adjacent Frick Park, thereby connecting it to the Monongahela River; and cleaning a polluted stream that bisects the site.

Extensive excavation to the site was required, including the addition of several feet of new soil and vegetation, but already, Summerset at Frick Park is becoming an exciting new community and one of the first new planned residential developments in the City of Pittsburgh in decades.The $243 million project will soon generate approximately $2.4 million of property taxes for the city.

Jerome Dettore is the Acting Executive Director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, an agency created to generate, stimulate, and manage growth and development projects in the City of Pittsburgh. He can be reached at



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