This story was originally published by PublicSource, a news partner of NEXTpittsburgh. PublicSource is a nonprofit media organization delivering local journalism at publicsource.org. You can sign up for their newsletters at publicsource.org/newsletters.

Swissvale Mayor Deneen Swartzwelder once hoped that the long-empty Carrie Furnace mill site, where her borough meets the Monongahela River, would one day be enlivened with an amphitheater and a community center, small restaurants and other gathering places. “But that is nobody else’s vision,” she said with a sigh last week.

In neighboring Rankin, which includes the bulk of the site, borough council Vice President William Pfoff has attended countless meetings in hopes of seeing jobs and tax revenue emerge in the shadows of the furnace’s remnants. “Still not one job, not one building, not one concrete thing that you could really hang your hat on,” he grumbled in late November. “And now at the end of the year, I’m leaving office.”

Their boroughs have waited more than 40 years for economic life to return to the site, owned by Allegheny County since 2005. Pfoff and Swartzwelder have been members of a decade-old Carrie Furnace Steering Committee, made up of county and municipal officials. They’ve seen false dawns before, as developers expressed interest, then backed off.

Could a new plan be the real thing?

In August, the nonprofit Regional Industrial Development Corp. [RIDC] agreed to take on the job of reviving 104 acres of the site.

In September, the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County inked a deal with RIDC in which the Downtown-based developer agreed to:

  • Buy the 39.5 acres near the Rankin Bridge, over time, with the right of first offer to buy another roughly 60 developable acres over 10 years, all for $80,000 per acre
  • Start building within 10 months on each parcel that it purchases
  • Construct buildings for any one of a range of uses including technology, research and development, biotech, film production, workforce training, life sciences, light manufacturing and assembly or offices.

The remnant of the furnace, which has served as a film backdrop and Rivers of Steel tour site, is expected to be preserved.

Carrie Furnace

The areas in pink are envisioned as the most imminently developable parts of the Carrie Furnace site, spanning Swissvale and Rankin. The eastern end of the site (to the right) is expected to be developed first. Photo courtesy of Allegheny County Department of Development.

The stakes are high for Rankin, which has a poverty rate estimated at 30%, versus a Pittsburgh metro area rate of around 11%. Rankin’s annual municipal budget hovers around $1 million, and it has been in financially distressed status under state Act 47 since 1989. Pfoff said the borough needs new revenue from the site to pay its bills, enhance its five-member police force and meet a two-year state-set deadline to get out of distress.

Swissvale, larger and more affluent than Rankin, has been hoping that activity on the site will have ripple effects on its existing businesses.

Last month, PublicSource asked RIDC President Donald Smith about plans for the site, timetables and potential effects on neighboring communities..