Traffic study results seen as central to Cool Valley development launch

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W hen the Cool Valley mixed-use industrial and commercial park was announced nearly four years ago, developers of the 911-acre project promised they would mirror the work of their successful neighbor in Cecil Township, Southpointe.


During the past several years, two things occurred:


Southpointe II experienced a rapid buildout that continues today, thanks to the area’s burgeoning shale-gas industry. Concurrently, Cool Valley became a “cool” neighbor, developmentally speaking.


The land in the project, unveiled in May 2010, remains untouched by graders and bulldozers.


That may be about to change.


During a Feb. 27 economic update for Washington County, Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan noted that the county was preparing an agreement of cooperation with Cool Valley development principal Ron Sabatino and his Ohio-based T&R Properties group.


The project, a public-private arrangement similar to the ones that have existed for Southpointe and Southpointe II, is being handled by the Redevelopment Authority of Washington County.


RAWC Executive Director William McGowen said last week that the new agreement now in the works is actually an update of the original that was approved in August 2010, just four months after Cool Valley was announced.


Bob Griffin, the authority’s economic development director, said that initially, Sabatino, who spent the previous decade purchasing the 911 contiguous acres that became Cool Valley, did not want to appear to be in competition with Southpointe for tenants, adding that with the nearing buildout of Southpointe II, that is no longer an issue.


What has changed in the ensuing years, according to McGowen and Griffin, is the development of additional information that wasn’t available when the project was first announced.


Much of the new information relates to an ongoing traffic study that the authority has commissioned.


“The Redevelopment Authority is in the process of working with PennDOT to see what’s going to be needed in terms of turning lanes and traffic signals to start the first phase of Cool Valley,” McGowen said.


When the study is completed, he added, the authority will know how much it will need to spend to develop the new traffic infrastructure.


If Sabatino signs off on the agreement in the coming months, McGowen said construction on the first 250 acres would begin by spring of 2015.


Most of that acreage lies across Interstate 79 to the west of Southpointe, between the interstate and Morganza Road.


While stating that the authority has one potential tenant that is involved in light manufacturing, McGowen said the bulk of the first phase will focus on office space.


The project will follow the same “divide-and-conquer” approach that worked for both Southpointe developments.


“We’re going to bite it off a piece at a time,” McGowen said. At the time Cool Valley was announced, Sabatino and others predicted the entire development would be built within 10 to 20 years, depending upon demand and economic conditions.


The same types of parameters were given for Southpointe II when it began construction in 2002, but when the energy boom created by natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale hit the area a few years later, development accelerated rapidly.


The Washington County Authority, which handles property sales and infrastructure development as the public entity for Southpointe II, acknowledged earlier this year that all of the parcels have been sold, with one remaining that is under option.


While the park still has numerous high-profile construction projects either under way or in the planning stages, it will soon be built out.


Like their counterparts across the rest of Southwestern Pennsylvania, economic development groups here continue to try to maintain an ample inventory of “pad-ready” industrial and commercial sites to match demand by companies looking to locate or expand in the area.


Irey Vaughan, McGowen, Griffin and Jeff Kotula, president of Washington County Chamber of Commerce, all acknowledged that numerous companies continue to approach the county asking about the availability of ready-to-go sites.


McGowen noted that the recent announcement by PennDOT that it will build a 13-mile connecting road between Southpointe and Pittsburgh International Airport should bode well for Cool Valley, as well as for Starpointe, which also sits along the already completed portion of the Findlay Connector near Burgettstown that links it to the airport.


“The beltway should up the ante for Cool Valley and the properties that might be along the beltway and for Southpointe,” McGowen said.


According to Griffin, Cool Valley is expected to draw $800 million in private investment and provide 1,500 family-sustaining jobs in the first two years of construction.


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