Why The Mosites Co. is redeveloping 47 acres of Allegheny riverfront

Sep 4, 2015, 8:09am EDT

A key parcel of Riverfront 47, the 47-acre former scrapyard slated for redevelopment in Sharpsburg, Aspinwall and O’Hara Township. This site is close to the Highland Park Bridge and the Aspinwall business district along Freeport Road.

A few city blocks along the East Busway in Pittsburgh might seem like a different type of redevelopment than a mile and a half of Allegheny riverfront. But as it works to complete its four-phase plan that’s played a major role in transforming East Liberty, The Mosites Co. sees broad parallels in its next major development project.

Early this week, Mosites joined in a partnership called Riverfront 47 LP with Aspinwall couple Susan and Currie Crookston to close on buying the former Azcon Metals scrap yard, a 47-acre tract of land that spans from Sharpsburg, through Aspinwall and into O’Hara, from New York-based Blue Tee Corp. for $5.34 million.

While the Crookstons through their Allegheny Development Partners spearheaded the property acquisition, they recruited Mosites as a partner, given the reputation the firm has earned succeeding with the often complicated challenges of redeveloping a key border stretch of East Liberty into a thriving collection of stores and restaurants, with 360 units of apartments on the way.

“It’s got a lot of similarities to a lot of the work we were doing in East Liberty,” said Mosites Director of Real EstateMark Minnerly.

He first observed the nature of the Azcon site, a long thin band of land that has some physical barriers, a broad description that also largely applies to the nearly 18 acres of property on the edge of East Liberty, stretching along a dedicated bus line rather than a river.

“It’s so long and thin you have to think about how it breaks down in scalable chunks,” he said of the Riverfront 47 site.

While East Liberty was a long struggling city neighborhood when Mosites began devising Eastside in the late 1990s, the Riverfront 47 site will offer challenges of dealing with ALCOSAN issues, storm water management and ensuring adequate site access to a property that now largely must be reached through narrow roads that track under established rail lines.

Yet Minnerly was also quick to describe Riverfront 47 as an “intrinsically interesting project” and expects a variety of interest in the site.

“The real estate itself is beautiful. You could see that you could find a lot of different people attracted to it,” said Minnerly. “This site has a strikingly undisturbed waterfront look, considering it’s been an industrial scrapyard for so long.”

He goes on to describe the site as opportunity to connect neighboring communities, which is what Eastside, has sought to do with Shadyside and East Liberty.

“It’s in an community context. You can actually see that if this is done properly, it will provide some valuable adjacency to the Sharpsburg business district and the Aspinwall park,” he added. “It would help improve these edges.”

That sense of community context applies to the support and interest by the municipalities involved. Minnerly was quick to praise the Crookstons for generating strong community backing to redevelop the site and added that the “high level of enthusiasm about the prospect of something better happening” on a site that had been barricaded by industrial use for generations also helped motivate Mosites to get involved.

An early key to kick-starting development at Riverfront 47 will be whether Allegheny Development Partners is awarded a $5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant through the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

If the project is awarded the grant, Minnerly said Riverfront 47 can known more quickly the potential tenants it can draw since it can get started the much-needed infrastructure build out.

“We are very much counting on the RACP grant coming through because there’s a bunch of early infrastructure stuff we can be prepared to do,” he said. “You need to get some of this infrastructure stuff done so you can know whose call you can entertain.”

Yet he was also quick to emphasize the need for a deliberative planning process, particularly when it comes to sustainability goals for the site. Minnerly emphasized Riverfront 47 will pursue careful planning and will work to draw global experts in to help assess the site’s needs and opportunities.

Against an expectation that some will expect to see specific development proposals soon, Minnerly emphasized the need to not rush the process.

“We’ve learned from Eastside that time is our friend,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle and by having a little bit more time to investigate, you’ll learn the things that you were missing.”

Tim Schooley covers retail, real estate, construction, hospitality, arts and entertainment, and government. Contact him at tschooley@bizjournals.com or 412-208-3826.