News of a planned $100 million biotech investment on Hazelwood Green comes as the site’s development team prepares for a potentially pivotal Tuesday hearing before the City Planning Commission. Advisors to the site told PublicSource that they have revised their site plans in response to concerns about parking and potential warehouses.

A proposal for a foundation-backed University of Pittsburgh BioForge life sciences facility on Hazelwood Green is “very exciting,” said Austin Gelbard, a senior director at Tishman Speyer, a New York-based developer that is advising the site’s owners. “It’s a tremendous anchor for the site. It’s a whole vector of growth and use that expands on the possibilities for the site, and is perfectly in keeping with the vision for the site.”

Most of the 178-acre site is owned by Almono LP, which is controlled by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Because it is in a specially planned district, its development must be in accord with plans approved by the City Planning Commission

A stretch of the 1.3-mile riverfront of the Hazelwood Green property (Photo courtesy of Hazelwood Green development team)

On Nov. 9, commission members heard a briefing on a proposed revised zoning and development plan and expressed concerns that it allowed too much warehouse space and temporary surface parking. Hazelwood residents had also raised concerns about the potential for long-term surface parking at an Oct. 12 community meeting.

The development team has amended its proposal to limit the number of warehouses to four, and to clarify plans for surface parking, according to Gelbard and Todd Stern, managing director of U3 Advisors, which is coordinating the development process. Both said the team and the site’s owners remained committed to equity, sustainability and design excellence but needed flexibility as they work to attract tenants.

Warehouses, they said, would not be a primary use on the site. They would support advanced manufacturing, biomanufacturing and other “maker-type” activities.

They said that the three-year-old plan in place today allows around 3,100 permanent parking spaces, and around 2,000 temporary spaces, in the site’s commercial central zone. They want to be allowed to include 6,000 surface spaces, of which 5,500 would be temporary. Those could be replaced with parking garages as development continues.

“As land is abundant and density is still growing, you would use temporary surface lots to meet that early demand,” said Gelbard. That need would drop over time due to a number of factors: improved transit, more people living and working on the site, more bicycling and potentially the emergence of other modes of transportation.

Stern said that it would be impractical to set a firm deadline for the elimination of the temporary surface parking because tenants would then be deterred from making long-term commitments to the site.

The interior of the renovated Roundhouse on Hazelwood Green, now a start-up incubator run by OneValley. (Photo by Rich Lord/PublicSource)

Gelbard and Stern spoke hours after the R.K. Mellon Foundation and Pitt announced the planned development of BioForge, a manufacturing facility for cell and gene therapy products. The foundation is making a $100 million gift to Pitt to back the facility’s creation.

BioForge is intended to fill a gap in Pittsburgh’s life sciences industry. The city’s biotech researchers must rely on out-of-town facilities to turn their inventions into products. A joint press release announcing the foundation’s arrangement with Pitt characterized it as a key to creating a global life sciences destination.

“If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that we need to discover and manufacture health care advances right here at home,” said foundation Director Sam Reiman in the release. “And we are even more eager to lead in this sector because of its potential to generate family-sustaining job opportunities that are accessible to all our communities.”

Reiman called the investment “one of the final puzzle pieces in our efforts to make Hazelwood Green truly different than other riverside developments.”

The university told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it would likely take four to five years to get BioForge up and running. Physically, BioForge could occupy a building of as much as 250,000 square feet, according to the press release.

“The zoning [proposal] we’re putting forward today can accommodate this kind of facility,” said Stern, adding that its emergence will help to attract other tenants to the site, and will eventually result in residents working there.

People interested in speaking at the Nov. 23 hearing before the commission can register here.

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s economic development reporter. He can be reached at rich@publicsource.org or on Twitter @richelord.

PublicSource receives funding from The Heinz Endowments and has received support from The R.K. Mellon Foundation in the past.

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Rich is a reporter and assistant editor at PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2005 through early 2020, leading projects on child poverty, the opioid...