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Wanted: a buyer for the former Western State Penitentiary

 A wall of the former State Correctional Institution-Pittsburgh, seen from behind a metal fence.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is eager to find a new use for the site of a sprawling, former state prison built in Pittsburgh nearly a century and a half ago. And after a long wait, aproposal for State Correctional Institution-Pittsburgh crafted by consultant Michael Baker International is open for public comment until June 26.

The roughly 22-acre site lies along the Ohio River in Pittsburgh’s Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood, with the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority on one side and a Duquesne Light facility on the other. The land is part of a zoning district that city officials spent years putting together, trying to rebuild its riverbanks in a way that honored historic uses while looking to a more sustainable future.

SCI-Pittsburgh has loomed over much of that history. It opened in 1878 as the Western State Penitentiary, and while it closed for good in 2017, the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2022.

Michael Baker leaned heavily on the city’s zoning goals as it analyzed possible futures for SCI-Pittsburgh. Options ranged from total demolition to total preservation. But ultimately, the company recommended that the state find a buyer keen to develop a mixed-use plan for the site.

Ideally, that buyer would make way for green space and industrial use, as well as preserve the prison’s main building, two guard towers, and the North Wall as a draw for film productions. Six projects have shot there to date.