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Enterprise zone administrator shares optimism with Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce members

Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Charles Starrett addresses enterprise zone matters in the Mon-Yough, Steel Valley and Carrie Furnace areas at a Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast Thursday in West Mifflin.

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Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 1:51 a.m.
 

For two area enterprise zones, it is a time of transition.

The current seven-year enterprise zone designations for the Steel Valley area and for the cities of McKeesport, Duquesne and Clairton will enter their final fiscal year on June 30.

Meanwhile, the enterprise zone designation for Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin and Swissvale will expire June 30, 2015.

The administrator for all of those zones, Charles Starrett, is optimistic about their future.

“We will have some discussions with the state,” Starrett told Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce members at a Thursday breakfast meeting in West Mifflin.

He believes the local enterprise zones can continue their work even if state funding is halted.

Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget holds the line from 2012-13 on funding for Keystone Communities programs, including enterprise zones, at $10.8 million.

Starrett said Keystone Communities brought together “a whole bunch of programs” including enterprise zones. He said the combined list once received $40-50 million in state funding.

Revolving loan funds have had their impact in all area enterprise zones.

Starrett said the Steel Valley revolving loan fund has generated 25 business loans leveraging $40 million in private investment, while state tax credits have leveraged another $60 million in private investment.

Starrett told the breakfast gathering about the upcoming consolidation of four revolving loan funds in the tri-city area into one.

It will take in the enterprise zone based at the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Duquesne, as well as the McKeesport Development Corp., Duquesne Business Advisory Corp., and the soon-to-be dissolved Clairton Reinvestment Corp.

Clairton officials have continued their efforts to bring a supermarket into that city, turning attention back to the Paramount Development proposal for a Bottom Dollar Food store there.

Starrett said his enterprise zone was prepared to provide financing for the Save-A-Lot planned then abandoned at the old Blair Heights property near Route 837.

However, he said, “Bottom Dollar Food does not seek public financing or this nonprofit kind of financing we are doing.”

Still, he said, Paramount needs help from the city and its redevelopment authority with acquiring vacant tax delinquent properties.

Bob Haramia of Harvil Enterprises commented that having a supermarket in downtown Clairton seemed to be a better idea than the proposal for Blair Heights.

Starrett hailed Bottom Dollar Food's efforts in Homestead.

“They worked hard, through a lot of obstacles, to make it happen (along E. Seventh Avenue) in Homestead,” Starrett said.

Also in Homestead, Rodriguez Associates is pursuing a $12 million commercial and residential project involving vacant lots and buildings along Amity Street from E. Eighth to E. Twelfth avenues.

That project has moved slowly since it was announced late in 2011 but Starrett said the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency “has a lot of respect for what Rodriguez does,” pointing to that firm's other developments, such as the senior residences it has built near Carnegie Library across the borough line in Munhall.

He said Allegheny County remains in strong support of the Rodriguez plan. Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County owns some of the buildings eyed by Rodriguez.

Starrett took questions on a number of projects in the enterprise zone covering Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin and Swissvale. That area includes the former sites of U.S. Steel's Carrie Furnace operation and UPMC Braddock, both now under redevelopment.

That part of the discussion also focused on the future of the Kenmawr Avenue Bridge, linking Kenmawr Avenue and S. Braddock Avenue and rolling over Norfolk Southern railroad tracks between the Rankin Bridge and the Parkway East.

Port Authority used to roll buses over that bridge, but recently changed four routes, including the 59 Mon Valley and P7 McKeesport Flyer, because of a reduced weight limit to 6 tons.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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