ambridge_ midland build without steel by alendar


									Ambridge, Midland build without steel
Wednesday, February 16, 2005

By Brian David, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ambridge and Midland shared a birth, when turn-of-the-century industrialists planted factories
by the Ohio River and built towns for the workers.

Ambridge was incorporated in 1905, and is celebrating its centennial this year. Midland was
incorporated in 1906, and is planning its centennial next year.

Now they're sharing a rebirth of hope. And in both places, that hope is coming from sources so
unlikely as to strain credulity.

In Ambridge, hope has come in the form of a tycoon from Perth, Australia, about as far away as
you can get without leaving the planet. He wants to raze several blocks' worth of industrial
wasteland and build a new community.

In Midland, the charitable wing of an online cyber charter school is powering plans to build a
park along the riverfront, dot other charter schools through the heart of town and build a
community on a vacant hilltop above it.

Both plans were front burner last week, with Ambridge's favorite Aussie finishing up his sixth
visit to the area and Midland's design team spending a week on site turning ideas into maps and

And skeptical though too-often-burned Beaver County residents may be, both plans are starting
to look realistic, with sales agreements in place, plans in progress and local money available to
seed state and federal grants.


The natural question is this: What in the world is Rob Moltoni doing in Ambridge?

The answer is that, as he sees it, Pennsylvania is the best place in the world to do brownfield
development -- building new things on old industrial sites.
Recent state initiatives have made money readily available
for such projects if the people proposing them can
demonstrate that they are serious.

"It's the best place I've found," Moltoni said. "The support
we've gotten here is unbelievable. ... The government is
receptive to it in Australia, but is not as financially
                                                                 Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Moltoni started out reclaiming bricks from dump sites.           Australian businessman Robert
That led him into recycling, waste management and                Moltoni, of Moltoni Corp. Pty. Ltd.,
demolition, and, eventually, he put all the pieces together,     talks about hs plans Feb. 8 to build
demolishing buildings, recycling the land and building           housing on the brownfield site
                                                                 behind him in Ambridge.
something new.                                                   Click photo for larger image.

As part of his recycling business, Moltoni had an interest in recovering mercury from waste
products. Through that, he met Bill Sutton, executive vice president of New Brighton-based
Pittsburgh Mineral & Environmental Technology, an innovator in the mercury recovery field.

Moltoni holds sales agreements on most of the land in the eight-block wedge, and is planning to
close on the first piece in May.

His plan is to raze the buildings between 11th and 17th streets to make way for 50 to 100
condominiums, and to refurbish an active industrial building just north of there for use as a
business park.

The idea is to take advantage of Ambridge's walkable size and the charm of historic Old
Economy Village across the street.

It's a far cry from the cul-de-sac suburbs, but to Moltoni, that's exactly the point.

"This is how we want to live in 2005, as opposed to how we wanted to live in the 1960s," he

According to the preliminary designs, the housing is in a parklike setting with underground
garages, a community center, a health center and, possibly, some housing geared to seniors.

Fourteenth Street would be the main entrance to the plan.The major north-south street is labeled
Perth Avenue; other streets carry tentative Aussie names such as Canberra Mews, Brisbane
Mews and Woolongong Mews, "mews" being the Australian equivalent of "drive."

Another key is that the plan would extend 19th Street west to Route 65, and realign the north end
of Merchant Avenue to intersect with 19th."It completely changes the character of this town for
the future," borough Manager Pam Caskie said, believing, as does Moltoni, that the development
would boost the market value of housing throughout the town.
The trade-off of industrial space for residential space, though, would be a clear and irreversible
step away from Ambridge's industry-driven past.

"I think what it does is recognizes that Ambridge is no longer going to be a job center," Caskie
said. "But, I think, instead, we can be our own little dot in the web" of suburbs surrounding

Moltoni has gotten a $175,000 state planning grant through the county Redevelopment
Authority, and has been encouraged by local legislators that state money will be available to raze
buildings and clean up environmental concerns if he has a development plan.

The borough has been supportive, tweaking its zoning ordinance to allow for Moltoni's plan.

"This has the support of a lot of people," borough council President Dave Deiter said. "It's really
vital to our future."

Moltoni said he had a significant amount of his own money invested in building, and was busy
lining up the rest of his financing. He declined to put an overall price tag on the project.

Moltoni said he hoped to see demolition begin this summer, and estimated that he was two years
into a seven-year process.Mancini estimated the site cleanup would be complete three years from


Midland's plans have been quicker to materialize than Ambridge's, and are grander and, perhaps,
even more surprising.

But they're also more tentative, though it's a near certainty that some aspects will materialize.

Unveiled in the fall, the plans include a residential development on Potter Farm, which sits on a
hilltop overlooking the downtown and the river. They also call for mixed development of
reclaimed mill property along the river and revitalizing the town's main drag, Midland Avenue.

The driving force is Rodis LLC, the nonprofit company formed last year to handle the business
aspects of the Midland-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.Charged with spending charter
school earnings on improving the town, Rodis went on a spending spree. It bought Potter Farm,
took out an agreement on some former mill property that went up for sale and hired Pittsburgh
planning firm Urban Design Associates to map out a plan for the town. UDA was in town last
week to share the plans drawn after its fall visit.

Potter Farm is envisioned as a close-set neighborhood of maybe 275 houses with abundant park
space and a small-town feeling.Aspects not imagined in the fall include two new charter schools,
one at the east end of town focusing on digital arts and one at the west end, focusing on sports-
related fields.
The cyber charter school uses several buildings in town, and its first spinoff charter school, the
Lincoln Park Performing Arts Academy, is under construction on the site of the old high school
on Midland Avenue.

With the two new charter schools as bookends, that would give the town four "nodes of
education-related" activity, as UDA's Don Carter put it.

The plans also call for an improved road paralleling Midland Avenue for trucks and another road
would loop around the mill site as part of a park.

The vision is essentially a new company town, with the cyber school and charter schools taking
the place of Crucible Steel at its heart and the community.

"We have to create a new image for Midland based on education, technology and the arts,"
Carter said at a wrap-up luncheon for the project's steering committee Friday.

The plan drew astonished and hopeful comments from a stream of visitors who watched a team
of designers work on the plans.

But there are some uncertainties to be dealt with.

For one, the borough's zoning plan is outdated. Mancini said zoning must allow for such uses as
high-density housing. Another problem is Allegheny Ludlum, which has a working mill in the
middle of the plan and owns a significant amount of property. The sports charter schoolis
designed on property now used for slag processing, and Allegheny Ludlum would have to agree
to a land swapand have to abandon a little-used building to make way for the park along the

But Midland does have the same advantage Ambridge does, a committed developer with money.

"Rodis is throwing off $1 million a year that they are investing in the community," Carter said.
"It is very rare that you have a foundation that is that invested in this small a town."

Like Moltoni, Rodis intends to seek public money to clean up industrial property and is likely to
be looking for public money to help with a number of revitalization projects in the existing town.

Rodis President Mike Barney said he expected at least one project -- moving Midland's small
grocery store from a side street onto Midland Avenue -- to go through this summer.

And with Rodis owning Potter Farm outright and the promise of rising employment at the cyber
school and the performing arts school, some level of development seems likely there.

Barney believes it will be far more than that. He sees 400 pupils at each of the three conventional
charter schools, a growing cyber school empire increasing its influence, an "emerald necklace" of
parks and greenery circling the town and a university-town atmosphere permeating everything.
What does it mean?

Much as their paths have run parallel for a century, Midland and Ambridge appear to be

If Ambridge develops the way Moltoni believes it will, it will be a housing-driven point in the
suburban web, capitalizing on its small-town feel. If Midland develops the way Barney thinks it
will, it will be an education-driven anomaly, a place utterly different from the world around it.

But both promise to leave a mark on the region. On the Ambridge side, Moltoni is not planning
to stop with this project. He said he was already looking at some other brownfield sites in the
region, and saw this first one as establishing his brand.

Midland's impact seems more likely to be in shaking the educational establishment. A group of
Beaver Area School District administrators, for instance, recently announced plans for a charter
school within their own halls.

And both plans look to tear down the leftovers of the past century's economy to build something

It's a mind set the Redevelopment Authority's Mancini, for one, welcomes. "As I sit here, I
almost think Beaver County doesn't have the laser-like focus on steel anymore," he said.

(Brian David can be reached at 724-375-6816 or

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