For more than 100 years, a scrap yard sat on a prime piece of riverfront property in Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg, but now new things are in store.
The 47-acre section along the Allegheny River recently was purchased by the appropriately named Riverfront 47 LP.
Aspinwall residents Currie and Susan Crookston took an interest in the site when Susan discovered the property a few years ago. A major leader in the Aspinwall Riverfront Park, Mrs. Crookston had approached the owners of the scrap yard, Blue Tee Corporation, the parent company of Azcon Corp. of New York City.
“I had tried to buy the property, but it went under agreement with someone else. I was devastated and told them that if it fell through, for any reason, to please let me know,” she said.
The deal did fall through and the owner reached out to Mrs. Crookston. Since she was, at that point, a single entity, and not wanting any more heart ache over the property, Mrs. Crookston asked for a face-to-face meeting.
The owner balked at the necessity of meeting and just wanted to negotiate over the phone, but Mrs. Crookston was worried she was too small of a player to even be considered a viable candidate to purchase the property.
“I said, ‘One hour, can’t you just give me one hour,’ and he said, ‘Lunch at noon on Wednesday,’” she said, giving her just a two-day notice.
The Crookstons flew to New York and within that hour, had worked out an agreement. Since Mrs. Crookston had done her homework, she knew what the property was worth. She worked into the deal that the owners would retain the right to remove the scrap and receive the financial gain from it, and they would remove the 24 structures on the property, thus reducing the value of the property. The land was purchased for approximately $5 million.
“It was win-win for both of us. They got the money for the scrap and we had the land cleared out,” Mrs. Crookston said.
But that didn’t mean the hard part was over. The Crookstons had to find partners to help finance and develop the land. Working with the three municipalities that the 1.5 mile stretch of land crosses over, they soon obtained a multi-municipal agreement and support.
Sixty percent of the land is in Sharpsburg, 24 percent is in O’Hara and 16 percent is in Aspinwall, according to Mrs. Crookston.
For a developer, Mrs. Crookston found The Mosites Co., well-known for its development in East Liberty.
“They were very thoughtful on who they wanted to partner with to develop this land. They liked the way that we approach our development and what we do,” said Mark Minnerly, diector of real estate development for Mosites and now a partner in the Riverfront 47 LP.
Mr. Minnerly along with Steve Mosites Jr, president of the company, and others are become co-owners with the Crookstons and will be the development partner for the project.
Riverfront 47 LP closed on the property on Sept 1. Right now, the group is exploring its options, something that they want to take very slowly and deliberately. The partners want to maintain the natural beauty of the riverfront property and create something that will continue to be welcomed by the communities.
“This was a scrap yard on private property and as such, an inaccessible entity to the public. In today’s thinking, riverfront properties should be public domain where people can enjoy it,” Mr. Minnerly said.
As residents of Aspinwall, thoughtful development and accessibility is extremely important to the Crookstons.
“This is a beautiful piece of property with lots of trails and green space. We don’t want to spoil that,” Mrs. Crookston said.
Taking a risk with Riverfront 47 LP was important to the Crookstons.
“There are very few times in life where you can make an enormous difference and for us, this was it,” she said.
Trish Klatt, Aspinwall resident and vice president of the board for the Aspinwall Riverfront Park, welcomes the purchase. As adjacent neighbors of the property, she feels that it will bring more visitors to the park. The Aspinwall Riverfront Park board is working with Riverfront 47 LP, sharing thoughts and ideas.
“This can be transformative for the whole community, and I don’t mean just Aspinwall, but Sharpsburg and other places,” she said.
The development of the area will bring jobs, recreational opportunities and more value to the area, she said.
“This will change the relationship of the community to the river. It will not be an extra thing, but a given thing,” Ms. Klatt said.
Mr. Minnerly agreed.
“This is a wonderful opportunity and a really great piece of property. We are really excited to be part of it,” he said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.