The Foundry recast: Developer looking toward future

January 24, 2013
A view from Trinity Point of buildings at the Foundry in South Strabane Township being demolished Thursday - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The Foundry appears to, indeed, have a retail future.

Andy Boyd, development specialist with THF Realty of Charleston, W.Va., said his company is working with potential tenants for the property off Route 19 in South Strabane Township. His firm is marketing the land where an ambitious shopping complex started to unfold in 2007 but was largely abandoned months later because of land subsidence.

Just two businesses, the Olive Garden and Max & Erma’s restaurants, are on the site. They are near the front of The Foundry, where subsidence is not an issue.

Boyd said he and the developer, St. Louis-based TSG Properties, are hoping to have earth-moving begin this spring, to have initial tenants in their buildings in 2014 and to complete the project in 2015.

That is, if all goes well. A lot of work has to be done.

First, there are the six damaged, unoccupied buildings where the earth shifted. Mosites Development Co. of Robinson Township, Allegheny County, is the contractor and is supervising the demolition of five of them. The sixth is owned by JCPenney, which returned to Washington Mall after the subsidence forced it from The Foundry.

Tim Lyons, a spokesman for JCPenney, based in Plano, Texas, was not available for comment about the company’s plans.

“The buildings could not be saved, remediated or rehabbed,” Boyd said.

He said applications for remediation of the site must be submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for review. The project then would have to be found to be in compliance with state Department of Environmental Protection standards. The next step would be to go to South Strabane Township with plans.

Boyd said THF’s marketing plans for The Foundry included “leading the effort” to bring Olive Garden there. The restaurant, specializing in Italian cuisine, opened Dec. 10 near Max & Erma’s, which has been at The Foundry from the beginning.

Both are popular dining spots whose parking lots are consistently full at lunch and dinner times. Their apparent success could be a draw to businesses considering locating in The Foundry.

John Stickle certainly hopes so. The South Strabane manager realizes that a reborn Foundry would further energize the township’s business climate and boost tax revenue.

“We’ve been hoping for this to come back and realized it was a matter of time,” Stickle said. “We just have to wait and see how things progress.

“It’s a great location.”

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 just JCPenney, 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.

JCPenney 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.

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.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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