Pete outlines the “BioForge” plans for Hazelwood in the town’s initial presentation

The University of Pittsburgh’s vision of turning a grassy portion of Hazelwood into a modern biomanufacturing center came into greater focus at Tuesday’s meeting.

Construction of a cell and gene therapy facility, dubbed BioForge, is due to begin this fall, but the university must first get approval from a city planning commission. The university began the process on Tuesday by showing the committee its plan for a 68-foot-tall building totaling 185,000 square feet.

The proposed site is located near Mill 19, which houses Carnegie Mellon University’s Futures Manufacturing Institute, and near a site that Carnegie Mellon University received committee approval to build a robotics lab. The site is part of the 178-acre Hazelwood Green site that CMU and Pitt have targeted, with the help of local institutions, for research and modern manufacturing.

Members of the public will be able to have their say on the plans at a hearing, likely to take place on September 19, before commissioners vote on the development.

BioForge plans require a generic technical installation but no specific plans have been developed. In the center of the proposed two-storey building will be a “sliver of glass” that is meant to be a beacon announcing the importance of the building and drawing people towards the building, according to Vance Chitham, an architect working on the project.

There are also plans to install charging stations for electric cars and e-bikes. In contrast to this modern addition, weathered steel and reclaimed wood are used that are meant to reference the area’s industrial history, according to plans submitted to the commissioners.

There will be 200 employees working at the facility, along with 900 construction jobs and 360 off-site support jobs, according to Pitt.

Earlier this summer, the Pete Board of Trustees’ Property and Facilities Committee approved spending $120 million to build the “core and structure” of BioForge. If approved, construction is expected to begin in 2025.

The presentation on Tuesday also highlighted the university’s community outreach efforts, citing seven meetings held between April and July.

Carnegie Mellon University has highlighted similar efforts to meet with residents to discuss the plans. Both universities said they use community feedback to help inform their comprehensive plans for the area and promised to bring opportunities from Hazelwood Green to the neighborhood.

However, some residents said they are unaware of what is happening on the site, or feel left out of the conversation and may not benefit from the development.

Like most of the region, Hazelwood has suffered economically after the collapse of its former manufacturing industries.

Until the 1990s, the Hazelwood Green site was operated by Jones & Laughlin Steel and its successor, LTV Steel. hPitt’s presentation addresses this history head-on by positioning the effort as transforming the “Steel Valley” into the “Vital Valley.”

Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development correspondent and can be reached at or on Twitter. @ericjankiewicz.

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