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Robinson to retire as RIDC president

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By Ron Daparma
Thursday, April 17, 2003

Frank Brooks Robinson Sr., one of Pittsburgh's best-known economic development executives, is retiring from his post as president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Robinson, 71, of Squirrel Hill, for the past 22 years has been at the helm of the RIDC, spearheading developments in a nine-county region, ranging from suburban industrial parks spanning hundreds of acres, to urban brownfield redevelopment projects in Pittsburgh and Mon Valley communities.

The development corporation announced Wednesday another veteran economic development official, Robert Stephenson, 64, the current president of the Strategic Investment Fund, has been named as his successor. Sometime in June, Stephenson, of Upper St. Clair, is expected to fully assume the role as only the fourth president in the RIDC's more-than 50-year history.

"Brooks Robinson is a tough act to follow," said Stephenson. "Under Brooks' guidance, RIDC has become one of the nation's preeminent economic development agencies."

"Bob has big shoes to fill," added Stephen Hansen, chief executive officer of Dollar Bank and chairman of the development corporation's board of directors. "He's spent his entire career helping this region."

Hansen said the RIDC board, at Robinson's request, initiated a quiet search last year to find a suitable replacement. Robinson will continue to serve as a director of RIDC and also aid in the transition.

In an interview, he said has no regrets about his long tenure at the development corporation, which spans 38 years overall, interrupted by a three-year stay in the administration of former Gov. Dick Thornburg in 1979-81.

"What I am most proud of is that the RIDC has a staff of remarkable people to carry out its complicated program," he said.

The RIDC's role has evolved over the years, starting with development of three large suburban industrial parks -- O'Hara Township northeast of the city, the Cranberry-Warrendale area to the northwest, and in the Parkway West corridor on the way to Pittsburgh International Airport. Those parks today are home to several hundred companies.

The corporation also stepped forward to take a chance on redeveloping a number of former industrial sites, including the closed Westinghouse Electric Corp. East Pittsburgh plant, where it now operates the Keystone Commons industrial park, and former U.S. Steel Corp. mill sites in Duquesne and McKeesport.

RIDC has over the yeas been involved in a number of successful job-saving projects in the city, for example helping retain General Nutrition Corp.'s headquarters in 1990, and more recently, helping restart the Nabisco cracker factory in East Liberty, where the Atlantic Baking Co., (now Bake-Line LLC) set up operations in 1999.

It also owns the building that houses Carnegie Mellon University's Software Institute in Oakland, served as master developer of the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland, and is general partner for Almono Inc., a limited partnership comprised of local foundations that is seeking to redevelop the former LTV Corp. Hazelwood Works.

Stephenson, who has 35 years of economic development-related experience, spent most of his career in the private real estate industry and with the DeBartolo Corp. In 1996, he became president of Strategic Investment, a $70 million private investment fund providing assistance to economic development projects in 10 area counties.

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