Robotics institute set to anchor Pittsburgh’s mammoth Almono development

By Bob Bauder, TribLive

Carnegie Mellon University’s Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute will be the first anchor tenant to set up shop in a former Hazelwood steel mill, officials said Monday.

Donald Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp., said the institute would occupy about two-thirds of the first of three buildings planned for Mill 19, a former LTV rolling mill.

Gov. Tom Wolf visited the site Monday to examine the mill property owned by the Almono partnership, which includes the Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon and Claude Worthington Benedum foundations. RIDC has managed the site.

“From the commonwealth’s point of view it’s a way to renovate, rehabilitate an area that’s been not under utilized, (but) unutilized for the last ‘how-many’ years,” Wolf said. “Aesthetically, think of what it means for the appearances in this area, but then it also reconnects the area of Hazelwood. I think what they’re trying to do here is an audacious thing: to try to re-establish that connection in a way that pays tribute to Pittsburgh’s current incarnation as a high-tech capital.”

Almono is planning a $120 million development including light manufacturing, about 2,000 apartments, shops and restaurants on the 178-acre property bordering the Monongahela River.

Plans call for the removal of Mill 19’s siding and construction of three separate buildings under the 1,500-foot-long building’s steel skeleton.

Solar panels on the western side of the roof should be enough to completely power the first two buildings.

Gary Fedder, CEO of the robotics institute, said ARM and Almono are finalizing lease details.

“It’s going to happen, but we need to work through a few details,” he said. “I want this thing built by the end of March. You can do the math and figure out how challenging this is going to be.”

CMU in January won more than $253 million in funding to set up the institute. It includes $80 million from the U.S. Defense Department and $173 million from some 200 partner organizations.

The institute will work on integrating robotics and autonomy into manufacturing.

Smith said the Mill 19 design was chosen to maintain Pittsburgh’s history as a steel producer and its future as a hub for high-tech manufacturing.

Ride-share giant Uber Technologies has developed a test track for self-driving cars on the Almono site, although Smith said the San Francisco-based company is no longer leasing a railroad roundhouse on the property. Smith said Almono plans to keep the roundhouse.

He said RIDC has scrapped plans to move its offices into Mill 19 because private companies are lining up as potential tenants. He said Almono is negotiating with an international technology company, which he would not name, as a major tenant in the second building.

“It doesn’t help the world much to have us here,” Smith said. “It really helps a lot more to have a technology company with a presence.”

Wolf, who also toured the Hazelwood business district, said he supports a state Senate proposal to help plug a $3.2 billion gap in the state’s $32 billion budget.

The Senate voted for a mix of new taxes and tax increases, including a levy on natural gas extraction.

“What I like in the Senate proposal: There is real, recurring revenue,” Wolf said. “No one likes any taxes, but we’re looking for something that has recurring revenue. It’s real, it’s not smoke and mirrors and it passes that test.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.comor via twitter @bobbauder.