90.5 WESA | By Margaret J. Krauss Published October 14, 2022 at 5:35 AM EDT
A slate of federal, state, and local officials gathered Thursday to break ground for a 60,000-square-foot tech space near the historic Carrie Blast Furnaces in Rankin. All said they expect development on the site, which once churned out iron to feed the region’s storied steelmaking industry, to forge new possibilities for the Mon Valley.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Congressman Mike Doyle, whose grandfather, Mike Doyle, worked at the Carrie Furnaces after emigrating from Ireland. Doyle, the U.S. representative, helped to secure funding for the site over many years.
“There’s been a steady stream of investment and focus on bringing this site back to life,” said Donald Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, or RIDC. The site, he predicted, will soon host “great jobs that will sustain families across our region, and contribute to the economic prosperity of these three important towns that this site touches: Swissvale, Rankin, and Braddock.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that what was once a haven for metals production is now going to be “a haven for technology, and film, and IT, and life sciences and all the things that Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region is becoming.”
RIDC aims to attract new companies with a pair of 60,000-square-foot buildings that can be converted to a variety of uses, as well as by further building out the infrastructure on the 55-acre site with new roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks. RIDC is also working with the Pittsburgh Film Office to create “The Film Furnace,” a film studio with a sound stage and other facilities to attract television and movie productions.
A purpose-built soundstage is “really needed by our clients,” said Dawn Keezer, who directs the Pittsburgh Film Office. In 2021 and 2022, more than 20 projects were shot in Pittsburgh, bringing more than $300 million and 10,000 jobs to the area, she said. The sound stage is expected to only increase the region’s draw.
While RIDC is acting as the developer on the site, the land is owned by Allegheny County. In September, county officials announced a multimillion dollar effort to build a non-motorized connection between the Carrie Furnaces and the Great Allegheny Passage. On Thursday, officials said that investment allows the site to piggyback on the investment all along the GAP, from Downtown through Hazelwood and Hazelwood Green.
The Carrie Blast Furnaces were part of U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, and employed thousands of people before they closed in 1982. Nonprofit Rivers of Steel has worked to preserve the furnaces as well as open them to the public.
Smith thanked Rivers of Steel for their work in preserving and sharing the story of the furnaces, “so that our kids can understand what this region was all about back in the day, while we’re busy creating what this region’s going to be about in the future.”