As most of the rest of the country continued to pull itself out of five years of economic recession, Washington County pushed ahead with major development in all directions during 2012.
Driven by the continued growth of the natural gas industry in Washington and Greene counties, developers responded to demand for everything for office and industrial space, medical complexes and more hotels.
The highlights of the past year included:
Route 19 corridor
Along a 12-mile stretch from the Peters Township-Upper St. Clair line through North and South Strabane Townships, roughly a dozen projects of various sizes were under way, including St. Clair Hospital’s outpatient clinic in McMurray; the continued build out of Ashwood Commons office condominiums in North Strabane; preparation for Tri-State Surgery Center, the first project in the 204-acre Meadows Landing development in South Strabane; and substantial site preparation for Park Place, a two-tiered mixed-use development that straddles North and South Strabane.
Hospitality continued to be the name of the game on Racetrack Road, which now boasts more than 700 rooms. Construction began in October on an 80-room Microtel and The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, a prime driver for rooms in the corridor, was moving ahead with plans to build a 200-room hotel and spa in 2013.
“For developers to be interested in building hotels in this economy is a statement to where Washington County is and is going,” commented J.R. Shaw, executive director of Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, which noted that the hotel occupancy rate countywide through August was 79.7 percent, up from 76.6 percent in 2011.
A case for space
Southpointe II neared the end of its available acreage in 2012 with a number of high-profile projects announced, including new headquarters buildings for Mylan Inc. and Ansys, and lead developer Horizon Properties breaking ground for its Town Center project that will include retail, restaurants, offices and a 380-unit luxury apartment buildings.
•Space also was growing tighter at the 217-acre Alta Vista Business Park in Bentleyville, where liquid-ring compressor manufacturer Gardner Denver Nash opened a 100,000-square-foot plant in March, and Weatherford, a supplier to the natural gas industry, moved into a 53,000 square-foot flex building. GDN then began expanding its footprint to accommodate the addition of a second division at its new plant.
Lue Ann Pawlick of the Middle Monongahela Valley Industrial Development Association, which owns the park, said MIDA expects to sell its remaining lots in the park within the next two years.
On the other side of the county, Starpointe, the area’s largest industrial park with 1,100 developable acres, extended its lot sizes, with plots of 20, 22 and 36 acres to accommodate demands from companies seeking bigger lots, where one company, Hormann Flexon LLC, was starting construction on a 68,000 square-foot industrial door plant. The company has plans to build two more phases that could give it as much as 220,000 square feet of production space on the acreage it owns.
“We can now make available much larger parcels that can compete with anything in the Pittsburgh region,” said Patrick Morosetti of Fourth River Development, which is marketing the park for owner Washington County Council on Economic Development.
In Greene County, where a Hampton Inn hotel is nearing completion near the Waynesburg exit of Interstate 79 south, Robbie Matesic, executive director of the county’s department of economic development, said in late December that numerous development deals were in the works, adding that she expected many of them to come to fruition in the new year.
Don Chappell, executive director of Greene County Industrial Developments, which markets Evergreene Technology Park and Paisley Industrial Park, saw activity in both locations in two energy-related deals. At Paisley, Stallion Oilfield Services constructed an 8,000-square-foot building, while mine-shaft construction company R.G. Johnson, headquartered in Washington, purchased 7 acres in Evergreene with plans to construct a new office and warehouse building at the 248-acre park, adjacent to the Greene County Airport.
Chappel said GCID is also working to sell the former Kiowa manufacturing plant at the I-79 northbound ramp at Waynesburg.
No convention center
No convention center. Despite the abundant growth in business projects, Washington County learned it wasn’t ready for a convention center. After commissioning a Philadelphia consulting firm that works on hospitality industry projects, Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency learned that the regional supply of convention centers in Western Pennsylvania made adding another one here a little too risky.
The consultants also recommended that a convention center not be pursued if the county was to be responsible for its operations.
County commission Chairman Larry Maggi said commissioners “were skeptical of using tax dollars” for the project.
“We didn’t feel that the county government should be in that business,” he said.
Into the past
In May, the last vestiges of Washington Steel, one of Washington’s most famous industrial sites, began disappearing, a victim of demolition by owner Allegheny Technologies. The long-shuttered plant on Woodland Avenue employed thousands over its 50 years of operations, and was the home of the first “Z-mill” that revolutionized the stainless steel industry in the post-World War II consumer boom.
“It was the best place to work in Washington County, maybe the United States,” recalled Jack Burnfield, who held several production positions in the mill over his 27-year career there.