Neville Island shows growth potential
Neville Island’s location — near a large city and right off an interstate — is almost perfect. The condition of the island, the largest in the Ohio River, is somewhat less than perfect.
But experts in brownfield redevelopment from around the United States, who ended a three-day evaluation of the island on Saturday, say it is one of the Pittsburgh region’s greatest assets.
“People are drawn to the water, and you have the location right here,” said Ron Littlefield, the president of the city council in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a planning consultant who was one of the experts gathered by the Brownfields Center at Carnegie Mellon University and Robert Morris University.
The conference centered on how to transform the island, once a heavy industrial site and now home to a multimillion-dollar sports facility, into a vibrant community that lures outsiders.
Changing Neville Island will be a long and perhaps contentious process, said Deborah Lange, an environmental engineer and the brownfield center’s director.
“There is always tension any time there is redevelopment,” Lange said. “People never go into this with exactly the same idea of what needs to be done.”
Last month, Robert Morris University paid $10 million to acquire the Neville Island Sports Center to use as a venue for Division 1 sports like hockey. The school plans to build a track and several fields next to the complex.
“There is great opportunity here,” said Ed Nicholson, the president of Robert Morris. “It is flat land on the water, and there is not much else like that in the Pittsburgh area.”
Each year, some 20,000 people use the sports complex, the island’s major draw for nonresidents.
The panel of experts shared a grand vision of marinas, restaurants, retail establishments and regattas. To some residents. the plan seemed a bit ambitious. Panel members reminded them that renovated waterfronts in places like Baltimore and Stamford, Conn., sit on the former sites of decaying warehouses and rotting piers.
“You have to think big, think of what will draw people in,” said Littlefield. “We did not have the population to support the aquarium, but the place is so good that people drive from Atlanta to see it.”