Moving PA’s Infrastructure Foward

On Friday April 27, the Construction Legislative Council of Western Pennsylvania had the opportunity to host State legislators on a bus tour of the Pittsburgh region.  The Moving PA Forward Infrastructure Bus Tour was a full-day bus tour created to highlight current prominent projects in Southwestern Pennsylvania and to show the need for robust public-private partnerships.

The legislators were shown the progress of the Mon-Fayette expressway, then, after a brief press event, were shown through Downtown Pittsburgh.  The region is currently undergoing growth and national prominence for research, technology, autonomous vehicles, robotics, artificial intelligence, and “eds and meds.”  This foundation of alignment between city leadership, universities, institutions, and foundations is working to not only attract the growth, but to manage it so all may benefit.  The “complete streets” and varieties of transportation, including dedicated bike lanes, allow for downtown itself to be a walkable attraction.  After Point Park and Duquesne universities, we visited the Lower Hill development.

From the vantage point of the Energy Innovation Center, a hub for workforce training and energy research in the former Connelley Center, renovated as a LEED Platinum project, the group had a clear view of downtown and the expected growth pathways.  This 28 acre Lower Hill development, site of the former Civic Arena, is currently being master planned to allow for walkability, attractions, housing, hospitality and office as a natural spill over from the skyscrapers of Grant Street.  Part of the visit included the new NRG Cogeneration Plan on Fifth Avenue that will power the site, the new UPMC Mercy hospital and the Uptown EcoInnovation District.

This EcoInnovation District will link the Downtown Golden Triangle to Oakland and its institutions.  The University of Pittsburgh and neighboring Carnegie Mellon University each are undergoing tremendous growth, both able to collaborate on large, extended research projects and together comprising the largest university district outside of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The University of Pittsburgh has amply employed state funding for dozens of building projects, with Carnegie Mellon much less so, but currently employing state funding on a comprehensive traffic corridor upgrade to open this fall.

The group drove across the new Greenfield Bridge towards Hazelwood Green, a new 178-acre riverfront brownfield now beginning new life as a mixed-use technology, research, employment, housing, recreational and commercial development, with high sustainability aspirations related to water, energy, transportation, emissions for the development to come.  Rob Stephany of the Heinz Endowments greeted the group mentioning the need to balance the needs of the existing Hazelwood community with expected growth of traffic, high-skilled jobs and real estate appreciation.

Just to the north, the bus tour passed the Eastside Bond project in East Liberty, a parking lot menacing to many only a decade ago, now home to 360 market rate on three LEED Certified buildings on a LEED for Neighborhood Development certified (pending) site adjacent to the Pittsburgh busway.  The tour stopped at Bakery Square and the adjoining Bakery Living development.  Gregg Perelman of Walnut Capital greeted the group, describing the project origins as an abandoned Nabisco baking factory renovated into tech office space that attracted Google, leading to adjacent commercial and hospitality development, to the acquisition and demolition of the adjacent Reizenstein middle school to make way for apartment buildings, townhomes and a new technology office building, with a noteworthy bridge across Penn Avenue linking the two buildings.  Bakery Square boasts LEED certified buildings, a photovoltaic array that generates renewable energy, rainwater gardens and even a rooftop chicken coop for the Google kitchen.

Making the case for the importance of public investment, Karl Sieg, Chair of the Construction Legislative Council professed that none of this project could have happened without State funding.  Mr. Perelman agreed, saying that none of these projects effectively could have.  For renovation projects, State funding acts as a catalyst, allowing for Tax Increment Financing or Local Economic Renovation Tax Assistance funding to help make a vision real.  We can all tout and take pride in the role that our cities play in our global competitiveness, but their livability and ability to perform makes Harrisburg a natural and necessary partner.

Marc Mondor, AIA – AIA Pennsylvania Government Affairs Chair
BOD, Construction Legislative Council
BOD, AIA Pittsburgh
BOD, AIA Pennsylvania
Principal, evolveEA