On a cloudy Wednesday morning in September, the saga of the Roundhouse at Hazelwood Green finally came around to its ultimate conclusion: from ruined industrial relic (built in 1887 to turn around locomotives bound for the J&L Steel mill) to OneValley’s high-tech incubator for startups powering Pittsburgh’s economic rebirth.
“The first thing that comes to mind is my dad,” says Tim Smith of Center of Life, a community empowerment organization in Hazelwood that has consulted on the project.
“My dad used to work in this mill,” says Smith. “He comes to Pittsburgh after coming out of the Navy. He stands down at the front gate, and he has his hard hat, his lunchpail, his tools, his gloves, his boots. It’s a work-ready program. You stand at the gate. If you look like you’re ready to work, sometimes you get picked. Well, he got picked and ended up working here.”
It was a difficult time, riven by divisions and separations, between black and white, labor and management, jobs and the environment.
“The other thing that comes to mind is sort of the ghosts of all the people who worked in this mill. If the ghosts of this 178 acres could speak to us, they’d say, ‘Make those connections,’” says Smith. “When you think about what OneValley is doing, and everything else that’s happening here, it’s a lot easier to make connections than it has ever been in its history.”
The $13.7 million, 26,000-square-foot rehabilitation by GBBN Architects is now fully occupied by OneValley. The massive doors to the train sheds are now glass, through which you can see two levels of desks and meeting rooms.
A solitary, rusty crane hangs from the ceiling, as a reminder of the building’s industrial past. A partnership with Monmade fills the Roundhouse with locally-crafted touches, from a kitchen island by Bones and All to a reception desk from Temper and Grit.
“For me, it’s hard to walk into this space without getting some chills down my spine,” says Chief Product Innovation Officer Alec Wright, in town from San Francisco, where OneValley’s headquarters is located. “This has been a passion project and a commitment of our team for four years almost, since we were first invited into the local ecosystem by our incredible partners at Ascender.”
“OneValley is a global entrepreneurship and acceleration platform. We have one mission and one mission only: and that is to support entrepreneurs grow their businesses …We see entrepreneurship as the engine of growth of the future, in the world’s most important industries. It’s an unbelievable privilege to work in communities like Pittsburgh and help build and develop those entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
Their goal is to have these young companies grow from a few people (or just one) at a cluster of desks, to a bigger office within the Roundhouse, to eventually a company that outgrows the space entirely.
“It brings us to the question of why Pittsburgh, and why Hazelwood?” says Wright. “Over the past seven years, my team and I looked at dozens of emerging innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems across the globe, frankly … We think there’s no city that’s better equipped to build these relationships and build the industries of tomorrow like Pittsburgh.”
OneValley gives members access to office and coworking spaces with on-site amenities (like kitchens, showers and a room for new mothers), and a global network of more than 40,000 entrepreneurs, 450 investors and 200 mentors through their Passport Platform. Also, members gain access to the Pittsburgh Entrepreneurship Platform, built in a partnership with Ascender and $500,000 from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The platform connects startups to Pittsburgh resources, investors, potential customers and savings on business and learning tools and content — like cloud computing, video conferencing, sales tools and access to like-minded founders.
The Roundhouse is part of the massive Hazelwood Green development that began almost 20 years ago, and is nowhere near completion. The Roundhouse is the second building on the property to be repurposed for the new economy — next door is the massive Mill 19 with one of the country’s largest solar arrays on the roof and a robotics hub within.
Parks, bike trails, housing, offices and more are in the works for the massive 178-acre site, which required substantial remediation after decades of industrial environmental damage.
“It’s sacred ground,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “So many toiled and worked here for over a century when it was J&L and LTV (Steel). Building the things that built America: the rails, the beams, the Arsenal of Democracy. When you think of the men and women who worked here, were injured here, and some died here, in building America. We’re creating a whole new economy. And hope, not just for Hazelwood, but for the young people coming up, wondering ‘What am I going to do? What’s my opportunity going to be?’”
The funding came from the Almono partnership, a collaboration of three of the region’s most significant foundations: The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation and Heinz Endowments.
“I thought to myself some years ago, that if the right people did not get their hands on that 178 acres of land downhill from Center of Life, we could be in deep trouble,” says Smith. “Thankfully, the foundations had the foresight to reach out and build these relationships that would not have happened 30 years ago.”
Mayor Bill Peduto recalls the end of LTV Steel — and the possibility of replacing it with another steel operation — caused new rifts in the city that have taken decades to address.
“Its last gasp put us against each other — environmentalists against organized labor,” Peduto says. “And what came out of that battle, was the Blue-Green Alliance, a local coming-together of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, that then took on a national presence in finding ways to work together on the common good, creating good jobs, green jobs.”