Let’s Raise the Vision

This morning’s headlines from the Pittsburgh Business Times included a predictably negative story quoting an official from the Ohio Oil & Gas Association who believes that only one cracker will be built in the Appalachian Basin. I’m not familiar with the level of influence of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association but this gentleman’s opinion flies in direct opposition to what everyone in the petrochemical business had told me about the logistics and dynamics of building ethane cracking capacity. The input I’ve had is that nobody wants to build the only cracker and it makes little economic sense to do so. Not sure what this guy’s motive is but I bet if you dig deep enough there’s an Ohio-centered reason for his nay-saying the crackers.

What does appear to be true (and negative enough for our business press) is that the long-awaited decision from Shell will be awaited at least another 90 days. After laying off 6,500 people globally and being in the middle of some potentially big strategic moves, Shell may not be ready to publicly announce a $5 billion or $6 billion project.

The cracker isn’t the only economic story in Pittsburgh. The inertia behind the development pushing east out of Downtown is growing and it is time to push for a more ambitious vision for what 2030 will look like.

There is a regional public transportation initiative underway and that seems like a good place to raise the bar. Yes, there are political realities about mass transit that can’t be ignored but caving in to an assumption that one city can’t receive or raise billions of dollars before asking is defeatist. Every once in a while a great idea defeats the political nonsense that exists (remember the highway bill in 2013?) and Pittsburgh’s mass transit strategy should aim for that.

If it takes $2 billion to link Downtown to Oakland and/or Hazelwood (or both), then ask for $2 billion and push to get it built in five years. Throw the region’s political and corporate weight behind a project that links The Strip and Oakland using an existing AVRR line and right-of-way. Imagine the impact on development in The Strip if the 3 Crossings transit hub could link residents to Almono.

Image by Desmone Architects
Image by Desmone Architects

Check out this photo/rendering that Desmone Architects is using to show how the condos planned by Francois Bitz will sit in The Strip neighborhood. Imagine the infill potential between the 31st Street Bridge and 16th Street Bridge. In the image, Oxford has already filled in much of the two blocks east of the Cork Factory Lofts with 3 Crossings. Beyond that, Buncher’s massive riverfront site will begin (slowly) filling in with apartments and a riverside boulevard that could connect thousands of units of additional residential.

It took about 30 years to reverse the damage done to greater Pittsburgh by the steel industry’s collapse but much of the progress has occurred since 2008, when civic leaders challenged Pittsburghers to “Imagine Pittsburgh” differently. Imagine the difference it might make to aim even higher, expecting a vision of a Strip District skyline or bustling Hazelwood or Hill District to come to fruition before 2030.

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