Abandoned Foundry stores coming down

Demolition of abandoned Foundry stores could portend changes at failed complex

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Is The Foundry coming back to life?

Workers from King Enterprises of Belle Vernon started demolishing the six former in-line stores standing on the property of the abandoned shopping complex in South Strabane Township Thursday. The buildings were damaged by ground subsidence in 2008.

The property has been unoccupied since then, except for two restaurants, Max & Erma’s and Olive Garden, that are on outparcels near the front and haven’t been affected by subsidence.

South Strabane manager John Stickle confirmed the municipality issued a demolition permit, but he did not know any other details regarding the property. He said THF Realty, headquartered in St. Louis, owns the property, but was unaware of its plans.

Two telephone calls to the THF office in Charleston, W.Va., were not returned.

Stickle is cautiously optimistic that plans are being formulated for new development at The Foundry.

“My hope is that once the existing buildings are removed, someone comes up with a site plan for new buildings,” he said. “The fact that they’re beginning demolition is a good sign, and hopefully The Foundry comes back.”

When it announced The Foundry project in 2005, Indianapolis-based Premier Properties USA said it would build a 575,000-square-foot shopping center that would attract many retailers, including a variety of chains that weren’t already doing business in the Washington area.

By December 2007, Premier had signed leases for about 20 retailers, but only J.C. Penney, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ross Dress-for-Less and Max & Erma’s restaurant were operating.

By June 2008, Premier Properties had filed for bankruptcy, and the three stores in the in-line portion of The Foundry had closed after subsidence behind a massive retaining wall caused cracks in the floor and walls of the stores.

J.C. Penney later relocated to its previous store at Washington Mall, where it continues to operate today.

By the end of June 2008, Premier Properties founder and Chief Executive Officer Christopher White was charged with theft and fraud in Indiana.

Of the original stores to open at the Foundry, only Max & Erma’s remained open. It was joined in December by the Olive Garden restaurant, which opened on an adjacent lot.

Following White’s conviction, the 104-acre Foundry property was posted for sheriff’s sale twice, but each time the sale was postponed.

Despite the subsidence problems, the lower lots of the development along Route 19 continued to be marketed as viable retail sites. Since the latter half of 2008, THF Realty and Pittsburgh-based Mosites Development have been responsible for trying to bring retailers to the site. No one was available Friday afternoon at Mosites Development to comment.

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