Foundry gets new life, new name: Old Mill

May 5, 2013
Heavy equipment lines up Wednesday in preparation for new construction behind the Olive Garden restaurant at The Foundry, now being called Old Mill, on Route 19 in South Strabane Township. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The Foundry is dead … but the project isn’t.

TSG Properties of St. Louis, the new owner, plans to give the abandoned shopping complex in South Strabane Township a new life and a new name. The Foundry has been rechristened Old Mill.

And, a year from now, Old Mill may have some new tenants. Andy Boyd, senior asset manager for The Staenberg Group, a shopping center developer, said, “We are getting extra-strong leasing activity.” He refused to name prospective tenants and said none is “on board, but we may be close.”

Phase I of this new project will feature construction of three buildings behind the Olive Garden restaurant, one of two businesses operating on the 104-acre site off the southbound lanes of Route 19. Max & Erma’s restaurant is the other.

Township manager John Stickle said plans call for the buildings to offer “roughly” 28,000, 23,000 and 1,000 square feet of retail space. They will be constructed on 7 acres.

“We should be starting earthwork by the end of May, pending approval from the conservation district and PennDOT,” Boyd said.

That work will include removal of the large retaining wall at the site, moving an estimated 600,000 cubic yards of earth and stabilizing the land.

Boyd estimated a spring 2014 opening for those incoming businesses, “and other stores hopefully will follow in short order.”

At a public hearing Thursday evening, the South Strabane Township Planning Commission approved TSG’s request for a revision of the original conditional-use plan and for preliminary and final land-development plans.

This followed initial signs that Old Mill – nee The Foundry – was going to be revived. Olive Garden opened in mid-December adjacent to Max & Erma’s, near the front of the site. Then, starting in January, workers from King Enterprises of Belle Vernon began demolishing the six buildings that had been abandoned because of ground subsidence damage.

The last one standing, owned by J.C. Penney, came down April 26.

Now this project that, essentially, has lain dormant for five years may be accelerating. TSG, the township, merchants and shoppers are hoping for a 180-degree turn from the past.

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 chains that weren’t 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 were operating.

Within six months, Premier Properties had filed for bankruptcy and the three stores in the in-line portion of The Foundry had closed after subsidence behind the retaining wall caused cracks in the floors and walls of the stores.

J.C. Penney returned to its previous store at Washington Mall, where it continues to operate. That left Max & Erma’s as the only original business at The Foundry.

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

Near the end of the public hearing Thursday, Pat Cooper, project manager for Gateway Engineers, told the planning board, “We’ll be back in a couple of months on Phase II.”

Plans for that phase, he said, have yet to be determined.

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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