Rodney Piatt had successful careers as an accountant in a Big Eight firm, and later working with his father and brother in running Millcraft Industries and leading the planning and buildout of the original Southpointe development.
Then he had a mid-life crisis.
“I was 45 years old, and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Piatt recalled Thursday evening. “In 1997, it was time for me to do something else with my life.”
After some soul-searching, Piatt launched Horizon Properties Group, which he has guided into one of the region’s leading commercial real estate development companies, including the company’s buildout of the 225-acre Southpointe II development.
On Thursday, Piatt, 60, was recognized as the 2013 recipient of the Southpointe CEO Association’s World Class CEO Award.
During a banquet in his honor at Southpointe’s Hilton Garden Inn attended by 150 people, Piatt and his business partner and friend, Michael Swisher, retraced the path that included their daily involvement with both phases of Southpointe, which evolved into one of the most successful mixed-use business parks in the eastern United States.
Swisher, who was working for a Florida development firm that had built golf courses and office parks in Florida and California, recalled meeting Rodney and his father, Jack Piatt Sr., in Florida to hear their plans for a golf course community.
At first, he said, he assumed they were looking to build somewhere in Florida, until he was stunned to learn their plan was for a site in Washington County.
Soon after formal plans were drawn up in 1985, Swisher said it became evident that Piatt had the fortitude of a marathon runner, with the ability to see a finish line that few others could envision.
“Rod was the guy who had the vision for Southpointe,” Swisher said, adding that his friend also had the ability to overcome the many obstacles that present themselves in a project of the size and scope of a several-hundred-acre business park, coordinating work with bankers, architects and public officials.
By the time Swisher had relocated to the area in 1993, Piatt had already begun the first buildings.
“It was not easy,” he said, noting that a major challenge arose when the vision for the Arthur Hill-designed championship golf course was absent a clubhouse.
The Southpointe Golf Club was built in 5 1/2 months between 1994 and 1995, enabling the course to become a centerpiece attraction for the companies Millcraft would eventually bring to the development.
Swisher said the golf course project demonstrated Piatt’s “brilliance,” the quality of knowing when to be aggressive and when to back off.
He said that quality would later be exhibited when Horizon spent nearly six years negotiating with Consol Energy, which later yielded a corporate headquarters that helped attract other major companies to Southpointe II.
“The building put Southpointe II on the map,” he said.
Conversely, Swisher said, Piatt was able to move fast when Range Resources needed to move into its regional headquarters, constructing the five-story building in 11 months.
Horizon, which was named the lead developer for Southpointe II by Washington County Authority in 2004, has developed more than 4 million square feet of properties, including the headquarters of Dick’s Sporting Goods near Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as many hotels.
In 2010 and 2011, Horizon’s hospitality division was named the Choice Hotels National Developer of the Year, and Piatt was recognized as the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties Developer of the Year in 2008.
Despite the range of projects, Piatt said, “Southpointe is in our blood.”
True to Swisher’s description of him as “a humble man,” Piatt had members of Horizon’s staff stand for recognition.
“It took an incredible, incredible amount of people to get where we are today,” he said.
Acknowledging that many people thought the idea of Southpointe would never work, Piatt said, “You have to be strong in your beliefs and be passionate in what you do every day.”
He noted that since Southpointe began, it has drawn about $1.5 billion in development projects, now has 10,000 people working in the park and has a golf course that hosts the annual Mylan Classic PGA-sanctioned tournament that draws thousands.
What he and the Horizon staff are focused on now is the completion of Southpointe II’s Town Center project that will bring 120,000 square feet of restaurants and retail operations and satisfy another of his “marathoner” visions for the park.
“I’ve always believed that one component missing from the park is retail,” Piatt said, adding that the Town Center will bring a sense of place to the development.
“Southpointe’s been a marathon, and I live it every day,” he said.