What is the "highest and best" direction for development at Iron City Brewery?

Last night was the second public engagement session for the Iron City Brewery site planning.  At this meeting, DLA architects, the firm working with site owner Collier Development and Lawrenceville Corporation during the planning process, presented different possibilities for ways in which the site could be developed.  The meeting was attended by about 40 people, including several PHCA board members and Polish Hill residents.

The most drastic of the development options would involve demolition of 50% of the buildings on the site.  Buildings up for demolition include the very large metal-frame storage buildings from the 80’s (for instance, the tan building in the lower right in the photo below) and brick structures from the 30’s and 40’s.  Also being considered for demolition are two 1890’s structures from the main block of five connected buildings (marked in the photo below — it looks like one big structure, but it’s actually two).  These buildings are probably the most visible structures on the site as viewed from Polish Hill.   Structural engineers have told DLA that the buildings are not safe.  The architects say that the buildings can be saved, but it would be very expensive.  It has been noted that the structural problems may have been worsened by the tons of rubble piled up against the building when a structure was demolished a couple of years ago.

The Iron City Brewery site is large, extending along Sassafras Street in the valley under the Bloomfield Bridge, and it’s clear that whatever development happens here will be a big project.  The site is zoned urban industrial, which leaves a lot of room for whatever the developer wishes to do.  All of the plans presented included improved vehicle access from Liberty Avenue as well as multiple pedestrian paths.  It was also mentioned that for a development of this size, 800 – 900 parking spaces would be required, which would probably include both surface parking and in a new parking garage.  The development would include office space, possibly some apartments, possibly a hotel (the developer has already bee contacted by a national hotel chain interested in the site).  There would probably be some retail and restaurants, and possibly other amenities.

It was clear that DLA did a lot of work on the various options, presenting both detailed site maps as well as a 3-d animation so that viewers could see the proposed ideas from different angles.  A look at DLA’s portfolio shows  a lot of large public-oriented projects, but none that involved the re-use of historic sites (except for the now-underway Strip District planning project, which includes the partial demolition of the terminal building to allow access to a large residential development by the river).

Most of the attendees at the Iron City Brewery meeting indicated that they valued the historic character of the site as a whole, and many felt that preservation of all the brick structures (if not the large 80s warehouses) was of great importance.  The meeting ran over the scheduled time due to a spirited discussion, becoming heated at points, about the historic value of the site, and debates about the value of spending millions to save and re-purpose old buildings vs. replacing them with new buildings.  Some of the presenters became impatient at what they perceived as a concern with preservation over the “highest and best use” of the site.  Of course, the definition of “highest and best use” varies according to who is speaking.  The location of the site, at the border of four neighborhoods and surrounded by residential streets, and its convenient location to the busway and downtown, makes the clash of visions almost inevitable.  Lawrenceville and Polish Hill in particular are seeing property values increase partly due to the scale and historic feel of their communities, and for stakeholders from those communities, the need for a sensitive, preservationist-oriented development of the site seems clear.

A number of times in this meeting, the presenter made a point of saying that while public input can inform or influence the process, it won’t dictate what the developer ultimately will do.  But that doesn’t mean that speaking up is futile.  The developer is going through this process in order to be eligible for government money — and the officials who dole out that money do care what residents think.  We urge all Polish Hill residents to acquaint themselves with the progress of this development and weigh in with your input now.  Iron City Brewery has long been a quiet, little-noticed site down the hill, but that’s going to change in the next year or so — and what happens there will have a big impact on our neighborhood,  for better or for worse.

The development options presented at the meeting will be put up on Lawrenceville Corporation’s website soon.  We’ll link to that when it appears.  There will be one more public meeting as part of the planning process, and we’ll let you know when that is announced, too.

(Top:  Lawrenceville Corporation Executive Director Matt Galluzzo talks to meeting attendees.  Middle:  the Iron City Brewery site from the south.  Bottom:  Meeting attendees view drawings of proposed development ideas.  Photos by Leslie Clague for the PHCA)

One thought on “What is the "highest and best" direction for development at Iron City Brewery?

  1. Thanks for posting this! I would add that the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission designated the Iron City complex for protection as a city historic site, preventing demolition of its significant buildings, as a result of Lawrenceville and Polish Hill residents working together to nominate the property. So, community opinion and activism have already impacted what can be done there.

    And, the historic designation was in place well before Collier Development purchased the property. They knew of the designation’s constraints when they bought it.

    Let’s take care as stewards of our built environment. As we do that, let’s keep in mind that stabilizing neglected masonry structures can be less expensive – and greener – than tearing them down.

    Carol Peterson

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