County sees potential of vacant sites
Half a million and legal muscle from Allegheny County could provide the boost Penn Hills needs to finally develop the municipality's largest industrial property.
"When I look at this site, I see something that is definitely doable," County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said recently as he toured the 200-acre former Atlas Cement plant site and the adjacent 300-acre former Gascola slag dump in the municipality's Thompson's Run corridor.
"The old LTV Steel site in the city and the Carrie Furnace site (in Swissvale, Braddock and Rankin) looked just like this not too long ago," Onorato said as he surveyed the vast collection of crumbling buildings and piles of rubble -- much of it dumped illegally -- that litter the site.
The former LTV plant along Second Avenue was redeveloped into the Pittsburgh Technology Center. Work is under way to prepare the 137-acre Carrie Furnace site for development into housing, office space, light industrial and a proposed steel heritage center.
The 300-acre slag dump property, which is owned by U.S. Steel Corp., is the eighth largest brownfield in the county. The 200-acre cement plant site, most of which is owned by MM&G Associates Inc. of Jefferson City, Tenn., is the county's 10th largest brownfield site.
Onorato said he also has applied to the state for $5 million in economic development funds to help pay for demolition, cleanup and preparation of the site for development.
"Obviously, developing something like (the Thompson Run site) will take a ton of money, but this is exactly the kind of thing the county wants to be involved in," Onorato said.
Vacant for more than two decades, Penn Hills officials believe the former industrial site is ripe for development because it is near a proposed ramp for the $4.3 billion Mon-Fayette Expressway, which is in the design stage.
The slag dump also has been cited as the possible location for a station for the high speed magnetic levitation train pilot program that is being developed. The maglev could run from the Pittsburgh International Airport to Greensburg.
One of the stumbling blocks to preparing the cement plant site for development has been gaining ownership of the property from MM&G.
Years of legal haggling between the municipality, the Penn Hills School District and the company could come to an end next month, said state Rep. Tony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills.
"It's in bankruptcy and (MM&G) has to move (on the property) by mid-June," he said. "The school district is ready to foreclose on it. June is D-Day. (MM&G) has to either come up with the (delinquent tax) money or it goes to sheriff's sale."
MM&G owes the school district more than $200,000 in delinquent property taxes, and more than $80,000 in back taxes are owed to the municipality and the county.
A decision in bankruptcy court also could mark the beginning of stiff fines on the property from the municipality.
"We're waiting to see what happens in court," said Howard Davidson, Penn Hills planning director. "If no effort is made to clean up the property, I'll start issuing fines for having deteriorated and dangerous buildings and piles of rubble on the site.
The fines, Davidson said, could accrue at the rate of several thousand dollars a day.
DeLuca characterized the condition of the property as "disgraceful."
"If any of us kept our properties like this, we'd be in jail," he said.