Monroeville bids for slice of Amazon HQ benefits
Monroeville's message to Amazon is clear: We have a home for you.
The Allegheny County team in charge of putting together a bid to be home of Amazon's second headquarters recently announced it was seeking suggestions of potential sites from throughout the region.
When they saw the news, Monroeville officials already had the former world headquarters of Westinghouse Electric Co. in mind. Officials submitted the idea to the county's Amazon HQ2 Team Pittsburgh on Sept. 28.
“We're hoping to get a slice of the pie,” Monroeville Mayor Greg Erosenko said.
Erosenko believes the site at 4350 Northern Pike — once one of the Westinghouse pieces bolstering Monroeville's economy — has what the Seattle-based tech behemoth is looking for. Amazon said in its request for proposals it is looking for 500,000 square feet that is within 30 miles of a population center, about 45 minutes from an airport, near major highways or roads and has access to mass transit.
Monroeville officials said: We've got that and more. The Westinghouse property is on 138 acres, has 503,000 square feet of office space and parking for 2,100, according to a real estate listing.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who is on the team putting together the bid for Amazon, said the Westinghouse property is one that includes some 20 sites around Pittsburgh. Amazon has said its project could mean as many as 50,000 jobs and $5 billion spent on construction in the city that wins the bidding.
“I think multiple sites will be urban and others will be more suburban. In a competition like this, Amazon is going to want to pick multiple locations,” Fitzgerald said. “It's ironic we're discussing this as a possible site. Westinghouse was the Amazon of their generation. They had a huge footprint in Western Pennsylvania, but not in just one place. They were all over the place. That was really the model in the late 1800s when Westinghouse made Pittsburgh an industrial giant.”
In its heyday, Westinghouse had two office complexes in Monroeville and employed around 3,000 people, said Monroeville Historical Society President Rob Elms. He worked in the electronics industry for 44 years, 26 of those with Westinghouse.
“I never believed a corporation could kill itself. But Westinghouse did it,” he said, adding the company's absence left a gaping hole in the municipality's economy.
It was 2010 when the company moved out of Monroeville and left its buildings behind.
“There's a lot of space to expand. That place can accommodate. We've had Fortune 500 companies in Monroeville before and we can do it again,” Monroeville Manager Tim Little said.
Allegheny County Councilman Chuck Martoni, who represents Monroeville, thinks it's a great idea.
“I don't see why not. It appears to be a beautiful place and what a nice location,” he said.
Fear the tunnels?
While many get excited when thinking about Amazon coming to Monroeville, several agree that the site's biggest — or longest — drawback could be the Squirrel Hill Tunnel between it and Pittsburgh.
“It certainly doesn't help,” said Little. “If you're commuting to work or want to get to the airport … it's been an impediment since the 80s.”
Elms traveled through the tunnel every day before he retired when his Westinghouse office moved to Moon.
“It's an annoyance, but there were a lot of other people that did it. That's just part of Pittsburgh — you can't get away from it. So if Amazon locates in Pittsburgh, any direction they go, they're going to run into traffic. It's just life here,” Elms said.
Robert Haley, director of communications with Compunetix, which has 360 employees at its offices on Mosside Boulevard in Monroeville, agreed with Elms and called the region's tunnels a first-world problem.
“I hate that drive over to the airport,” Haley said. “Sometimes I'd rather drive to Cleveland over Pittsburgh. But it's the most dramatic entrance to a city in the U.S. You come through that tunnel and it's like coming into a whole new world … it's great for our customers,” Haley said.
Little admitted public transportation and the tunnel are real issues that may keep Amazon or other large companies from moving to Monroeville. But that doesn't stop him from musing.
“Pittsburgh has a chance here to be a tech city, and it is. We have Google and Uber,” Little said. “If Pittsburgh is going to be a leader, not all that growth is going to be in the city. So if you're looking out into the future, these innovative companies have to go somewhere. Why not Monroeville?”