Big changes in sight for Old Mill shopping site

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The Old Mill retail project in South Strabane Township will be transformed in a highly visible way in a couple of weeks, a spokesman for the developer of the retail center project said Friday.


The Staenberg Group, a shopping center developer, began moving earth this spring as it works to redevelop the site formerly known as The Foundry along Route 19.


Andy Boyd, senior asset manager for Staenberg, said contractors began removing the giant retaining wall Monday, removing 600,000 cubic yards of earth, and in the coming weeks will create a more gradual slope in the wall’s place.


In May, South Strabane Township supervisors approved Staenberg’s request for an amended conditional-use permit for the site that was revised from original Foundry drawings.


The soil will not be removed, but redistributed within the site. The plan has received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


The changes now occurring coincide with the recent purchase by Staenberg’s partner, HCB Foundry, of land from J.C. Penney Properties for $1.275 million.


The plot once held a J.C. Penney department store that opened in March 2007 just beyond the retaining wall. In June 2008, J.C. Penney followed several other retailers that vacated their stores that spring when subsidence caused by the settlement of earth behind the retaining wall began to crack foundations and walls in the first phase of the development.


“We needed to purchase the (J.C. Penney) property to consolidate the entire property and control it,” Boyd said.


Despite J.C. Penney’s sale of its land, Boyd said Staenberg is talking to the company as well as several other retailers about coming to the site.


If JCPenney were to decide to return, he said, it would lease land there, not purchase it.


While negotiations with potential retailers continue, Staenberg is moving ahead with transforming the site.


“We’re going to change the appearance of the center within the next two weeks,” Boyd said.


In addition to removing the retaining wall, crews have been working at the opposite side of the site’s acreage moving earth for the buildout of parking lots and for the construction of a 53,000-square-foot building. That structure will be divided into three smaller buildings that will house stores of varying sizes for several retailers. Construction is expected to begin in August.


While Boyd said Staenberg is close to announcing signing of the first retailers at the site, it’s also looking at more dining options for the center, which currently has an Olive Garden and a Max & Erma’s restaurant.


Negotiations are under way to bring from three to five additional restaurants to the six outparcels that lie just to the north of Max & Erma’s along the portion of the development that faces Route 19.


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