Almost thirty years ago, as developers and officials clashed in discussions over the future of Herrs Island on the Allegheny River, the Post-Gazette wrote, “it is crucial that development of Herrs Island be done right with close attention to the best land use. Because of its location within sight of Downtown two miles away, Herrs Island can be a jewel in Pittsburgh’s crown if things are done right.”
Maybe not everything was done right, but since the 1980s the sight of what was previously known as Herrs Island has changed dramatically. A former brownfield site has been turned into an exemplary project of urban redevelopment and luxurious riverfront living. Not far from where a foul-smelling factory used to grind up the remains of dead animals, people now park luxury boats. Instead of soap works and saw mills, the island hosts parks, town homes and a marina.
The name changed in 1987. Herrs Island became Washington’s Landing to honor a story that during the French and Indian War George Washington himself slept on the island after his raft capsized on the Allegheny River.
The development of old Herrs Island into shiny, new Washington’s Landing was a long process, with lots of setbacks. The discovery of hazardous wastes threatened plans for a riverside marina and a residential complex, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Buncher Corp. negotiated over terms of the agreement and the price. Estimates for the cleanup costs were enormous and no one wanted to be responsible. The cleanup was eventually completed.
In 1999, the final parcel of land on the island has been sold to a developer, the Rubinoff Co., that planned to have its corporate offices along with several small high technology companies. In 1999, the Post-Gazette wrote, “A few years ago it seemed as if no one wanted to be on Washington’s Landing, then known as Herrs Island, because of the smelly animal-rendering plants there. But for the past several years, the small island has become hot … Companies located on the island include Sports Technology Group, Silicon Graphics, Automated Healthcare and the Three Rivers Rowing Association.
“There also are 88 new housing units on the island, with prices from $249,350 to $580,000.” That was almost 15 years ago.