...Industrial Pittsburgh Reborn as Research, Technology Center

By Bob Dvorchak, Ap | THE JOURNAL RECORD, December 3, 1986 | Go to article overview

...Industrial Pittsburgh Reborn as Research, Technology Center


Bob Dvorchak, Ap, THE JOURNAL RECORD


PITTSBURGH - The wrecking ball and a fleet of bulldozers have battered and scraped away the essence of the Steel City's past to sow the seeds of what some feel is its future.

A new high-technology park specializing in computer software, robotics and artificial intelligence will be built on a 50-acre site that had housed heavy industry since before the Civil War.

``Pittsburgh is known throughout the world as the epitome of the industrial city, the epoch that has passed. We are in the midst of a fundamental transformation,'' said Tim Parks, executive director of the Pittsburgh High-Technology Council.

The mention of Pittsburgh, once the steel capital of the world, used to evoke images of smoke-filled skies what he would do as an architect to improve the city's grimy appearance, said: ``Abandon it.''

Then the steel industry collapsed, undermined by slack demand caused by overcapacity and foreign imports.

Instead of economic death, Pittsburgh has begun to experience a rebirth as a center of research and technology. Years of urban renewal efforts paid off in 1985, when Rand McNally's ``Places Rated Almanac'' rated Pittsburgh America's ``most livable city.''

The local growth in high technology is mirrored in the growth of the High-Technology Council, a trade group of modern companies, from 38 to 447 members in less than three years.

About 500 to 800 companies in the Pittsburgh area are making computer software or using high-tech in their operations. At least 40,000 people have jobs in the high-tech industry, according to the council.

By contrast, steel jobs in the four-county Pittsburgh area have plummeted 247 percent from 71,300 to 28,900 in the past decade, according to the state Bureau of Employment Security.

Physically, the most dramatic metamorphosis has taken place on Second Avenue along the Monongahela River, where the high-tech center is rising in place of the former Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. mill.

The plant, which began with two blast furnaces and a battery of beehive coke ovens in 1859, was the only mill inside the city that made coke, iron and steel.

A peak workforce of 2,800 tended the giant ovens and operated its strip mill, making flat rolled sheets, coils and steel plate. But the plant was shuttered in 1981, and its last two blast furnaces were blown up for scrap two years later.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, which paid $3.5 million for the site in 1983, has been clearing it for two years. On Oct. 10, groundbreaking was held for a new roadway and water and sewer lines.

``This is the most important economic development project the city has undertaken in the last 40 years. We must work together to create a new identity for our city,'' said Mayor Dick Caliguiri.

The high-tech park will take about seven years to develop, officials said. It will have a campus-like look with about 12 buildings and create an estimated 1,600 new jobs.

One of the site's biggest boosters is Richard Cyert, president of Carnegie-Mellon University, a national leader in robotics, software development and artificial intelligence. CMU experts define artificial intelligence as the ability of a computer to behave autonomously, to solve problems that it's not specifically programmed to solve.

``We want to make that a beautiful place that becomes a statement of the new Pittsburgh. …

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