Clairton doesn’t get a lot of attention, except occasionally when the struggle to limit pollution from US Steel’s Clairton Coke Works comes up.
Now Clairton — a Mon Valley community of about 6,700 that has struggled economically for decades — is taking a big step toward revitalization with the Clairton Inn project in the town’s business district. It’s a combination of historic preservation of the Clairton Inn (built in 1902) with adjacent new construction along Miller Avenue.
“Whenever it’s complete, the project will have 49 new apartments that will all be affordable to households that are below 50% of the area median income — probably about $30,000 a year for a single person and it scales up according to household size,” says Andrew Ritchie of the Mon Valley Initiative, the nonprofit developer of the project.
The $16.7 million, 70,000-square-foot project is designed by LGA Partners. The development is about six months from completion in July. Resident applications will be accepted at online starting in April.
There’s also a number of retail spaces at the ground level available. Clairton’s public library, which is across the street, has signed a letter of intent for 6,500 square feet of the Clairton Inn’s retail space.
“We’d love to attract a restaurant or coffee shop of some kind. I think it would be great to have access to some sort of food,” says Ritchie. “The Clairton Laundry Basket (laundromat) came with the building and will remain.”
Though the Clairton Inn building itself will be redeveloped, several neighboring buildings — including the former Croatia Club and Colonial Theatre — were in too advanced a state of decay to enable preservation.
“There was nothing salvageable,” says Ritchie. “Our initial intent was to try to preserve at least some part of the facade of the Colonial Theatre, but it had just taken on too much water and become too damaged over the years.”
Architects were able to preserve terra cotta medallions that were part of the Colonial Theatre facade and plan to use them in the facade of the new building. “It sort of carries over a little piece of the history into the future,” says Ritchie.
The entire project will be connected internally, sharing laundry facilities, a community room with a kitchen and courtyard space.
Fourteen out of 15 workers on the project, led by Mistick Construction, are from Clairton.
Along with a few other key projects, Clairton is seeing some life return to its downtown. Around the corner from the Clairton Inn on St. Clair Avenue is the Clairton Produce Marketplace, which opened in 2020.
“It’s the first fresh food grocery store in Clairton in, I think, 15 years,” says Ritchie. “Until then, Clairton was more or less a ‘food desert.’ It’s become kind of a community information sharing point. People know that they can come down there and find groups having an activity or flu vaccines, or Covid vaccines, or a winter coat drive, or whatever.”
There’s also the planned redevelopment of the vacant Union Trust Bank — across the street from the Clairton Inn — into a community center.
“There is an affordable housing crisis right now in the Pittsburgh area,” says Jason Togyer communications manager for the Mon Valley Initiative.
“What we are noticing more and more — and what other organizations have reported — is that people are moving out to these outlying areas, and to the ends of the county and they’re not finding the kind of (housing) resources that are sustainable. So that’s really our goal with the Clairton Inn, to really get sustainable, affordable, high-quality apartments going.”