MEADOW LANDS – For years, Horizon Properties Group President Rod Piatt has been a proponent of development in the Racetrack Road corridor that divides North Strabane and South Strabane townships.
His company built the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Cambria Suites hotels in the corridor, where Horizon also built the Meadow Pointe Plaza office development.
The company’s hotel projects were developed to support the business generated by The Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Tanger Outlets, which now collectively draw several million people a year.
Now Horizon is preparing to fill another hospitality niche, with plans to bring several casual dining restaurants to Racetrack Road as part of “The Street at The Meadows,” a mixed-use retail and office development on 14.5 acres that front the road and are adjacent to the entrance to the casino and racetrack.
“It’s going to be a nice gateway to the casino,” said Horizon principal Michael Swisher, who added that the project, to begin construction this summer, is expected to draw many people from well beyond the Racetrack Road corridor.
Horizon purchased 14.5 acres from Meadows owner Cannery Casino Resorts last year, and originally approached North Strabane supervisors with a preliminary plan for “The Street” project in late August.
A lot has changed since late 2006, when Piatt stated at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Hampton Inn that he believed the area was underserved by hotels and was poised for growth as a leisure and hospitality corridor.
While his remarks that day proved to be prescient, even Piatt is surprised by how quickly the growth has occurred there.
“If you would have said (six years ago) there were going to be 700 hotel rooms on Racetrack Road, who would have believed it,” he said last week.
What’s equally surprising, he said, is how well the hotels are doing there, noting that all are achieving a 60 percent to 70 percent occupancy rate, which is considered to be remarkable by hotel industry standards.
Swisher said the new mixed-use project, which will open next year, will be a three-story building connected by two wings, with a total of 50,000 square feet of retail space, including hair and nail salons and a cellular telephone store. Another 55,000 square feet will be devoted to office space.
Also included will be five outparcels, one for a bank with a drive-through lane and the other four parcels for a cafe-bistro and three casual dining chain restaurants. The plan calls for 700 parking spaces.
Piatt and Swisher said the Racetrack Road corridor is ripe for a mixed-use development like “The Street,” and Swisher provided numbers to support their claim.
He noted that traffic studies found there are 13,760 daily vehicle trips along Racetrack Road, driven by the presence of Tanger Outlets and The Meadows.
He noted that the casino and racetrack draw 3.6 million people a year, or about 10,000 each day.
While the 700-plus hotel rooms now in the corridor would be enough to support Horizon’s project (there are at least two other hotels in development, including a 200-room project proposed by Cannery Casinos Resorts at The Meadows), Swisher said the company also looked beyond the activity on Racetrack Road and liked what it saw.
Its study found that 672,000 people live within a half-hour drive of Racetrack Road.
Additionally, the corridor is bordered by two of the county’s largest residential developments – Meadowbrook, with about 1,500 single-family homes and townhomes, and the multi-phase Stonecreek apartment complex just to the south along Route 19.
On any given day, he said, there could be as many as 600 to 700 groups of people, from local families and hotel guests to people shopping or gambling, who are looking for places to eat.
There are a number of fast-food offerings along the corridor and restaurants in the DoubleTree and Cambria Suites hotels, as well as the upscale Bistecca steak house inside the casino. But there is a dearth of casual dining offerings.
Horizon’s project aims to fill that demand, Swisher said.
He and Piatt said they’re talking with national restaurant chains that don’t already have a presence here, with many of those expressing interest in the project.
“This is a big growth corridor, connecting Route 19 and Interstate 79, with I-70 nearby,” Swisher said.
J.R. Shaw, executive director of Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, said the project will provide another dimension to a corridor that’s already dedicated to leisure activity.
“I think it does fill in a very important part of leisure activities on Racetrack Road and in that corridor,” Shaw said.
He noted that few dining options currently exist between Canonsburg and the Racetrack Road corridor.
In addition to the acreage Horizon will develop for “The Street,” Swisher said the company has an option to purchase the remaining 20 acres behind the acres that front Racetrack Road.
He said Horizon will present its final project plans to North Strabane in the spring, start construction this summer and open the project in the second quarter of 2014.