40 Acres site in Hays will now be Pittsburgh's biggest park
The board of the Urban Redevelopment Authority has accepted a gift of 660 acres of land in Hays from the Pittsburgh Development Group II, with plans to create new city parkland, trails and possibly housing.
The $5 million price paid by the URA as part of the transaction is far below the market value of the mineral rights, the value of the property, and the $15 million the Pittsburgh Development Group II has invested in the site. All this comes after negotiations between the development group and Mayor Peduto’s Chief of Staff and URA board chairman Kevin Acklin.
“This is a historic day for Pittsburgh, one that allows us to make a monumental addition to our urban forests and hillsides, and one that harkens back to other great gifts of parkland in our city’s past,” Mayor Peduto said. “What a thrilling present for our 200th birthday.”
Charles J. Betters and his family are the principal owners of Pittsburgh Development Group, which was formed more than 12 years ago, and William R. Newlin is the largest minority owner.
“The effort to accomplish this major gift has been led by Mr. Betters over the last few years. He and his partners wanted to make a significant philanthropic gift to the City of Pittsburgh,” Mr. Newlin said. “He hoped that this will contribute to the quality of life of the City, just as Pittsburgh has redefined its new dynamic economy, and with hopes that his gift mirrors those of the early 1900’s from its industrial past.”
URA officials are in talks with foundations, conservation and environmental groups to raise funds that would leverage the URA’s funding and also secure a conservation easement on the site. Owning the mineral rights means the city can block proposals to drill for natural resources there.
The property is approximately 660 acres, with 642 acres in the City of Pittsburgh and 18 acres in Baldwin Borough. Together with the land in Baldwin, the site will be the largest contiguous park in Pittsburgh. Frick Park is 644 acres.
Studies of the site indicate 5,825 linear feet of perennial streams, 2,899 linear feet of intermittent streams and 5,780 linear feet of ephemeral streams. There are several deep valleys and a waterfall on one of the streams. The palisades on the site offer views of the river below.
The URA plans to work with agencies such as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Allegheny Land Trust on efforts to protect the site’s environment, which currently supports bald eagles and other wildlife there.
It is undetermined when the parklands will be open to the public. In addition to parklands, the URA plans to work with stakeholders to study the feasibility of a future housing development on a small portion of the site in an appropriate part of the land.
The Hays site was previously owned by J&L Steel. The Pittsburgh Development Group II purchased the property through a series of acquisitions in 2003. It was master planned for a mixed use development consisting of residential and commercial development. Original plans included a racetrack and casino but had an alternative plan to replace that portion of the site with additional residential development if a race track was not permitted.