Pittsburgh has eyes on developing former VA site
Pittsburgh hopes to acquire a former Veterans Affairs hospital complex in Lincoln-Lemington as a possible location for a public safety training center, public works facility and housing for homeless veterans, the mayor said Tuesday.
Mayor Bill Peduto said he pitched the idea to former VA Secretary Robert McDonald during a 2014 meeting in Pittsburgh and followed up with a letter in October 2015 expressing interest in acquiring the property. The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System closed the 168-acre complex on Highland Drive in 2013 and shifted medical services to the University Drive campus in Oakland and the H.J. Heinz facility in O'Hara.
“There's a lot of different options that are available to us with the site,” Peduto said, noting that Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority owns about 62 acres of adjoining vacant land.
Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are exploring a partnership to create a $30 million public safety training center for city and county police, firefighters and paramedics. The center could be open for training municipal officers.
They also are considering locations in the West End and East Hills, among others, but both men said the Highland Drive complex likely would fit the needs. Pittsburgh is leasing a North Side building from the Community College of Allegheny County to school police recruits.
“I think it could be a place that would be acceptable for folks,” Fitzgerald said. “It's in a good location.”
Peduto said some of the 24 buildings on the site could be adapted to provide transient housing for homeless veterans.
The city also is considering moving some of its operations from the Strip District and offering the property for sale to developers. Peduto said Highland Drive could accommodate the move.
VA spokeswoman Sheila Tunney confirmed the agency has had talks with “interested parties,” including government agencies, and conducted tours of the property.
“At this time, VA anticipates making a decision about the way forward in the next few months,” she said in an email.
City officials estimate it would take two years for property acquisition and another two years to construct a public safety facility.
Congress would have to approve a sale for fair market value, according to the VA. The property could be discounted up to 100 percent if used for public benefit, including homeless assistance, self-help housing and law enforcement and emergency management response, the agency said.
“It looks like our proposed uses could qualify, but that determination would happen in the future,” said Kevin Acklin, Peduto's chief of staff.
Peduto said officials have had ongoing conversations with the VA, the White House and the offices of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, about getting the property.
Doyle said the change in presidential administrations could cause delays.
“I think (the VA is) OK with the idea of selling it,” he said. “They just don't move that quickly in selling property.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.