Former steel mill forges new beginning with groundbreaking

Credit: Diane Lee/ Credit: Diane Lee/

Hundreds gathered on Monday, Nov. 20, at the site of an abandoned steel factory. The event, however, was not meant to honor Pittsburgh’s past but instead to mark the beginning of a new development at the location. Carnegie Mellon University is set to lease two floors of the new building, which will be built in the Hazelwood neighborhood inside the frame of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company’s Mill 19.

The symbolic resonance of the location, recently renamed Hazelwood Green, was not lost on the attendees. Congressman Mike Doyle, Congressional Representative for Pittsburgh’s 14th district, was quoted in a Carnegie Mellon news release stating “in their heyday, Pittsburgh steel and Pittsburgh steelworkers were the envy of the world. Today’s groundbreaking is a sign that a new heyday is coming for Pittsburgh and for America — one that will transform and revive an entire sector of the American economy in every corner of our great nation.”

The site, formerly dubbed ALMONO after the first syllables of Pittsburgh’s rivers, has long been a focal point in the conversation of how Pittsburgh is changing, and what role institutions like Carnegie Mellon University should play in this change. A 2009 report released by Carnegie Mellon’s Remaking Cities Institute highlighted the neighborhood of Hazelwood, as possibly Pittsburgh’s “next big urban project” as the city emerges from “languishing in the wake of the restructuring of the steel industry.”

The site is also on the list of spaces being offered to Amazon for their much-contested HQ2 location, with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald unsubtly joking at the renaming announcement “This is a wonderful, wonderful site that puts us in a competitive advantage with that company… it begins with an A ends with an N.”

Development by tech companies in Pittsburgh is sometimes highly controversial, with some residents pointing to revitalization following the decline brought by the loss of the steel industry, and others citing gentrification and inflated housing prices as real worries for the city.

The renaming of the ALMONO site as Hazelwood Green after the neighborhood adjacent to the undeveloped area, as well as the preservation of the structure of the steel factory signals an attempt to reconcile these tensions. At the renaming announcement, Mayor Bill Peduto stated, “Hazelwood has to be at the front. It has to be about the community. It has to be about the past as much as it will be about the future.”

The fact that both organizations that will be housed in the factory have manufacturing-based missions was also highlighted as significant, with Dennis Davin, Pennsylvania Secretary of Community and Economic Development, stating “the potential of this site, of the region, and of these partners to usher in this game-changing manufacturing renaissance,” as the reason that so many flocked to the preview in November.

The locale will host the Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI), a Carnegie Mellon initiative for manufacturing research, and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM), a Pittsburgh-based independent organization started at Carnegie Mellon University.

Both groups are at the forefront of manufacturing research, with ARM receiving a 20 million dollar grant from the Department of Defense, a frequent funder of research at Carnegie Mellon University.

The usage of this space for these two initiatives led Interim President Farnam Jahanian to state at Monday’s event that “by bringing together large-scale academic research and industrial development under one roof, Mill 19 will become a true differentiator for Pittsburgh and for the region. When complete, it will be the first manufacturing hub of its kind in the nation — in the world, for that matter.”