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Can Almono Avoid The Pitfalls of Tech 21?

Aerial view of the proposed Almono development in Hazelwood along the banks of the Monongahela River Photo from Almono's website

Aerial view of the proposed Almono development in Hazelwood along the banks of the Monongahela River
Photo from Almono’s website

In last week’s interview with Mayor Peduto, we briefly discussed the proposed Almono development on the site of the old LTV Steel plant in Hazelwood, along the Monongahela River. Almono is a brownfield redevelopment that will attempt to transform the 178 acres left behind by LTV Steel into a multi-use residential, commercial, and industrial development.

On Almono’s website is an excellent interactive graphic that shows the four distinct proposed zones. The northern and southern ends of the development will be high-density residential in the “Hazelwood Flats” section and mixed-use retail/residential in the “Riverview” section. In between will be light industrial and commercial uses in the “Smart Site Central Green” and “Eco Tech Park” portions of the site, with clean technology companies being heavily courted. Clean technology is another type of business that is environmentally friendly and/or environmentally efficient — recycling, renewable energy, electric motors, green transportation, and so forth.

As per the Mayor in our interview, the final environmental review is expected to come in positively in April 2015, with site infrastructure (roads, utilities, sewers) scheduled to start soon after. Supposedly, there are clean tech companies already queued up waiting to build.

By researching Almono more and more, I can’t help but think of another potentially transformative development — the failed Tech 21 office park in Marshall Township. Take yourself back to 1999. Thinking of our world pre-9/11 is difficult to fathom for many, but that time period was a near-unprecedented economic boom in our country’s history. The Dot Com Bubble was in full effect and everyone had pre-millenium tension. Two developers, noted bon vivant Francois Bitz (the “F” in the plucky startup FORE Systems, along with “O”nat, “R”obert, and “E”ric) and Howard Wrigley were proposing a new 220-acre office park that would cater to high technology.

Years of zoning meetings, revisions to land development plans, and financing issues seemed to sap the spirit of Bitz and Wrigley, but finally in 2005 ground was broken on Tech 21. The utilities were installed, the sewers laid, the roads paved, all in a peaceful wooded setting designed to stimulate creativity. They even had a signature tenant in Medrad come online in 2007 and be willing to take a large parcel and erect a 125,000 square foot building for their new world headquarters. And then…nothing.

Like, literally, nothing.

The Dot Com bubble had long since burst and the world changed in the skittish post-9/11 world climate. Cranberry Woods was developed just 10 minutes away in Cranberry and lured Westinghouse from Monroeville to Cranberry, which in turn stimulated interest in joining Westinghouse at Cranberry Woods, instead of going to Tech 21. A deep, national recession that started in 2008 crippled new business development.

Eventually, RIDC stepped up in 2010 and bought the development from Tech 21 Partners. It’s now named Innovation Ridge, but it no longer even has Medrad. That company was bought out by Bayer and absorbed into the existing structure, leaving the building empty. Earlier this year, multiple companies have started to move into the facility, but 1/3 of the old Medrad headquarters remains unused.

Both Almono and Tech 21 were part of the zeitgeist of their respective times. Tech 21’s name was looking hopefully to the 21st Century and how high-tech jobs would flow to the North Hills of Pittsburgh. Almono (short for Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio) is taking today’s trend of abbreviations, shorthand, and portmanteaus for its name and embracing the buzziness of sustainability, green technology, and reducing one’s carbon footprint.

Almono seems unlikely to fail in the same fashion as Tech 21 because it is already being developed out in partnership with RIDC from the start. Although it has been a long time in the making, the debates haven’t been as contentious as they were with Marshall, as most people want to see a brownfield get re-developed in lieu of a greenfield, wooded area. And most importantly, the Mayor of Pittsburgh is an active supporter of the project, which carries a lot of weight when obtaining the necessary grants for cleanup and infrastructure, to say nothing of him championing businesses from around the world to move into Almono from the start.

It’s probably more inline with a future article, but it’s pretty amazing how diversified Pittsburgh’s economy has become in 2015. Contrasting to the 1980’s when steel collapsed and almost took the City down in flames, 2015 Pittsburgh is more than even the “Eds and Meds” moniker. We’re home to eight Fortune 500 companies that are spread far across the business spectrum from steel to banking to energy to sporting goods to food. Wherever you personally stand on fracking, that has become part of our economic fabric. If Almono can attract major clean tech companies, that would only augment the broad-based portfolio of Pittsburgh’s economic profile. If one of these sectors goes belly-up, the ripple effects will not be as devastating as when steel left in the ’80’s.

That doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh’s future is riding on Almono, of course. We’ve progressed as a city past the point where Pittsburgh has to beg, borrow, and connive companies to come here. But it sure would be nice to see a fully-functioning Almono with all facets of residential, commercial, and light-industrial firing on all cylinders.


Kevin Creagh is the author of the sci-fi novel Creating Christ, available now on Amazon

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.