ShareThis Page

Pittsburgh has eyes on developing former VA site

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, 4:39 p.m.
VA Highland Drive Campus in Lincoln-Lemington was ranked among the nine most endangered historic resources in the state in Pennsylvania At Risk 2013 by Preservation Pennsylvania.
VA Highland Drive Campus in Lincoln-Lemington was ranked among the nine most endangered historic resources in the state in Pennsylvania At Risk 2013 by Preservation Pennsylvania.

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 bbauder@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.