Corridors with a future

Business leaders outline county’s present, future growth opportunities

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Bill Paulos’ company has invested more than $600 million in The Meadows Racetrack & Casino since purchasing it in 2004, but he’s not finished with bringing amenities to the 179-acre site in the Racetrack Road corridor.


Paulos, co-founder of Las Vegas-based Cannery Casino Resorts, was the main speaker at the “Corridors of Opportunity” presentation for Washington County Tuesday.


“We’re planning to do some more,” Paulos told the audience of about 200 architects, consultants, attorneys and others from across Western Pennsylvania who came for an update of the county’s many economic development opportunities.


While he didn’t provide a timeline, Paulos said CCR is working with a Pittsburgh company on plans for a 150-room hotel to be built on The Meadows property and connected to the casino.


CCR opened the 350,000-square-foot casino – one of the largest on the East Coast – in July 2009 and it now employs 1,400 people and draws 10,000 guests per day. The company also operates the 50-year-old harness-racing track that includes a 5/8-mile track and 18 barns that house 825 horses.


“Washington County is really exploding, and it’s exciting to see it happen and be a part of it,” said Paulos, at the Pittsburgh Business Times event.


Staying vigilant

That observation was echoed by several others in the natural gas, engineering and commercial real estate development industries, but each agreed that there could be impediments to the county’s rise as an economic power of the past several years without vigilant management.


Noting that Pennsylvania now has 11 casinos in operation with one additional license approved for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and two more unissued, “the East and West (of Pennsylvania) are now getting fairly saturated in gaming,” Paulos said. He noted that 42 states now have legalized gambling, including all of the states contiguous to Pennsylvania.


While the Keystone State is now No.2 in generating gaming revenue, surpassing even Nevada, Paulos said a willingness to adapt is critical.


“New Jersey is absolutely suffering because they didn’t keep up with the times, and quite frankly, they didn’t keep up with their business,” said Paulos.


He said Pennsylvania’s gaming industry, which pays out 61 percent of its gross revenue to state, county and local taxes, needs to encourage legislators to work on ways to enable casinos to draw more out-of-state gamblers while realizing more profit from that segment.


During a panel discussion following Paulos’ remarks, Richard Minsterman, project manager for Gateway Engineers, said his firm has noted the influx of new companies, including engineering and architectural services, as well as growth in oil and gas, hospitality, gaming and housing, with other potential opportunities presenting themselves with discussions proceeding on Bass Pro Shops, the Cool Valley development in Cecil Township and the Washington County Airport.


To Minsterman, the biggest challenges to future growth will present themselves in the areas of stormwater management and roads.


He said municipalities should consider creating stormwater management utilities that could collect revenue from residents and businesses, based on their stormwater generation, offering incentives for those who reduce it.


Scott Roy, vice president of government affairs and communications for Range Resources, said that while Range’s business of oil and gas extraction is far removed from gaming, it shares many of that industry’s local contributions, in terms of investment, job creation and impact fee it pays that are returned to municipalities where drilling in the Marcellus Shale occurs.


“We’re pleased to be a part of the business community that’s the envy of the nation,” Roy said in reference to Washington County’s rise as an energy center.


Roy noted that Range has 1 million acres for potential shale development mostly in Southwestern Pennsylvania, directly employs 300 at its Southpointe regional headquarters and another 5,000 through its subcontractors, and in 2012, returned $4.7 million in impact fees to the county and its municipalities.


But Roy said regulations will play a critical role in determining the country’s energy future.


Roy’s colleague and competitor Bob Ovitz, senior operations for Noble Energy’s Marcellus business unit, noted that his company, which is in a joint venture with Consol Energy Inc., said the company is working on 625,000 acres in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and has invested $200 million with 240 vendors in the Marcellus Shale.


“The Marcellus Shale is a world-class resource, and the future is bright,” Ovitz said.


J.P. Morgan, of Southpointe-based Horizon Properties, noted that the company, founded by Rod Piatt, is the lead developer for Southpointe II, where it is currently building a mixed-use Town Center of retail and office space, viewed by Piatt as the project that will give Southpointe a sense of place when completed.


The company is also preparing to build the Street at The Meadows, a retail and apartment complex adjacent to the entrance to The Meadows that Morgan said will bring more restaurant choices to the Racetrack Road corridor.


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