Animal Rescue League expansion to anchor section of Homewood

Bob Bauder
| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 9:16 p.m.

The Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania plans to build a $15 million campus in a Pittsburgh neighborhood where scant development has happened in the past half-century.

Supporters say the shelter, clinic and exercise yards will help revitalize a full block of Hamilton Avenue in Homewood. The location is about two blocks east of the league's facility in Larimer.

“What they will become is an anchor in that part of the neighborhood,” said City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents Homewood. “It will be a regional attraction to spur new businesses, housing and restaurants.”

Neighbors offered mixed reactions. Some agree with Burgess, but others wonder about potential noise and smell.

“I feel it's just a way to push us out,” said Karen Gilliam, 53.

William Young, 41, thinks it's the best thing to happen in Homewood in years.

“It's nothing now but vacant lots, basically,” he said. “I'm very confident that it would bring up the image of this block of Hamilton.”

The league's executive director, Dan Rossi, said the $15 million price tag includes the cost of buying the land from private owners and the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. The league intends to raise money through a capital campaign, drawing mostly private donations, and to apply for state grants.

Officials are designing the facility, which will address neighbors' concerns, he said.

“We're working to make sure that what we do doesn't have a direct impact on the neighbors,” he said. “Our goal is to work with the community to have a facility that fits into the neighborhood.”

The organization wants a facility double the size of the one in Larimer, which it plans to sell. Shelter officials are talking with a potential buyer, but Rossi said he was unsure how the building might be used. The Animal Rescue League has owned its building for nearly 50 years. It has 73 full- and part-time employees and more than 500 volunteers.

The Homewood campus would occupy the block between Hamilton and Susquehanna Street, and North Dallas Avenue and Murtland Street. In addition to a shelter and clinic, the building would house program space and have parking lots, animal exercise areas and rain gardens.

“We've been at our current site since the 1960s, and we are currently out of room,” Rossi said.

Last year, the League coordinated about 7,000 adoptions, spayed and neutered more than 7,500 animals, and treated about 7,700 animals at its clinic, he said. The bulk of its $3.5 million annual budget comes from private donations, Rossi said. The average donation is about $50.

Fundraising for the campus has begun, Rossi said. Site preparation work is expected to begin this summer and construction in the fall. The campus could open in late 2015 or early 2016.

“It will be a state-of-the-art facility and essentially be one of the largest investments in Homewood for a very long time,” Rossi said.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority said the last project in Homewood approaching the scope of the League's plans was the $11.5 million Homewood Station Senior Apartments under construction on North Homewood Avenue.

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or Staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed to this report.

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