Economic Development

‘Power of 32’ Wants to Invest Here, Sets Oct. 12 Event

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A Pittsburgh-based super fund that commands $49 million to encourage development across 32 counties – including Mahoning and Columbiana counties — is gaining traction.

The Power of 32 Site Development Fund LP, an effort launched two years ago that constitutes 14 financial and development partners, has to date made four investments in sites that stretch from Follansbee, W.Va., to Greater Pittsburgh, says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference.

“The objective is to develop a patient loan fund for horizontal infrastructure at a site, not construction,” he said.

The organization has scheduled a “Meet the Site Fund Team” here Oct 12, part of an effort to raise awareness in northeastern Ohio about the benefits of the fund. The meeting will run from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the NEO Development & Finance Authority, 240 N. Champion St. downtown.

The site fund has yet to sponsor a project in Ohio, Yablonsky said, but wants to get the word out to developers in the eastern counties that money is available to spur new projects.

“We’re making a real concerted effort to make people aware of this in northeastern Ohio,” Yablonsky said.

The Power of 32 fund includes five counties in eastern Ohio, 15 in western Pennsylvania – including Mercer and Lawrence, 10 counties in West Virginia, and two counties in the western panhandle of Maryland.

Yablonsky said that the fund targets larger sites – 25 acres or more – preferably brownfields or land in community reinvestment areas. The sites are either zoned commercial or mixed use.

The premise is to lend money at below-market interest rates for infrastructure work such as sewer, water, roads and environmental remediation. The money is repaid back once the site is developed, Yablonsky said.

Thus far, the fund has lent $18 million toward four projects. Each was designed to accommodate a different industry and uses.

“It varies,” Yablonsky said. Manufacturing uses are a strong suit, he noted, but so are research and technology. Developers in the past have found it difficult to raise money for projects without a committed tenant at the site. “We made a decision to get out in front of that,” he said.

Last year, the fund advanced $9.5 million to prepare a 178-acre site – Almono — in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The site was that city’s last brownfield open for development.

The Almono site has been proposed as a site that would meet the needs of Amazon’s HQ2 project. The online retail giant is looking for an urban location to develop a second headquarters campus somewhere in the United States, and Pittsburgh wants to make sure it’s on CIO Jeff Bezos’ radar.

Nearly every major city in the country is seeking to be Amazon’s choice because it’s estimated that the development could lure as many as 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars in new investment to the area that lands the project.

Amazon has said it wants to develop its campus in an urban area, initially with 500,000 square feet of space and then expand it to eight million square feet.

The fund has also invested in a venture near Pittsburgh International Airport that will house office and distribution business at the Clinton Commerce Park.

Most recently, the fund supported a new development at the Turnpike Distribution Center at the interchange of interstates 376 and 76 in Beaver County, Pa., just 10 miles north of where Royal Dutch Shell is constructing a $6 billion cracker plant.

CastleBrooke, a Pittsburgh-area developer, wants to build one million square feet of new distribution space that could accommodate the business the Shell project generates.

A fourth project underway is an investment at a new site on the Ohio River in Follansbee, W.Va., Yablonsky said.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.