Racetrack Road continues torrid growth pace

July 27, 2014
Viewed from the top of the Meadows Casino parking garage, construction proceeds on the new Hyatt Place hotel, while in the background, earthmoving continues for the 14.5-acre Street at the Meadows mixed-use project. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

At the Meadows Casino, where gambling can be a lifestyle, this was a sure bet.

The facility spent $2 million to $3 million in upgrading its restaurants, replacing the Terrace with the Carvery, transforming Pacers, its primary bar, with the Vibe, and enhancing Headliners. Different lighting, carpeting, atmosphere.

“It's more exciting, energetic,” said Sean Sullivan, casino vice president and general manager.

That wasn't the extent of the facelift. The Meadows spent $3 million to $4 million on new slot machines, and cleared a 50,000-square-foot space outdoors for an “arena” to host smaller-audience events such as the boxing card this past Saturday.

Keeping up with the Nemacolins and Wheeling Islands, of course, is a significant part of the equation. Twelve other casinos are within 175 miles of North Strabane Township, home of The Meadows. Another is targeted to open this fall in Austintown, Ohio, and still another is planned for the New Castle area.

To set the pace or merely maintain it, The Meadows HAS to offer more than the amenities that will be available at similar venues.

“New casinos open every day,” Sullivan said. “We have to stay competitive. We can't be stagnant, boring or unkempt. If we don't update, customers will think about going elsewhere.

“If we don't keep it fresh, customers will say they don't feel good about my Meadows. And it is their Meadows.”

But that philosophy has a geographic application as well. The casino sits off Racetrack Road, a busy boulevard named for the iconic harness track that shares the casino name.

An estimated 17,000 vehicles use the roadway daily, an extraordinary quantity considering Racetrack runs a mere 1 1/2 miles, from Route 19 to slightly past Interstate 79. The Meadows and Tanger Outlets – cater-corner and up the hill in South Strabane Township – are the main attractions. Together, they draw 8 million people annually.

If traffic there resembles a rousing, high-stakes race, so does development. Two projects are underway within close proximity of the racino, another is down the road slightly, and an office complex is a long-range plan for across the way.

The Hyatt Place hotel, Street at the Meadows and the quickly evolving Park Place at the Meadowlands are going up largely because of the masses generated by the racino and outlets. Yet, when completed, they also should be complements to the standard attractions, enhancing retail and racino business.

“We're kind of an anchor in this area with Tanger,” Sullivan said.

Anchors made of gold, perhaps.

Hailing the Hyatt

It's easy to accuse Fred Branovan of bias. He is, after all, in charge of the Hyatt Place construction.

Yet his eyes while he spoke and his smile afterward screamed sincerity.

“This will be the nicest room in all of Pittsburgh . . . although Downtown Pittsburgh people may disagree,” said Branovan, president and chief operating officer of FFC Capital – and head of Meadows Hotel Associates, a privately owned hotel development firm from downtown.

The four-story hotel, the county's first Hyatt, is rising quickly on four acres near the racino front. A March or April opening is targeted, weather being a major variable.

When completed, there will be 155 rooms – eight of them luxury suites – plus a skywalk extending to The Meadows 161 feet away.

Hyatt's aspirations are not modest. “We want to be Washington County's flagship hotel,” Branovan said.

The rooms, and windows within, will be large and have high-level soundproofing, said Peter Kirk, director of marketing and construction for Design Builders of Ohio, a Steubenville company handling the construction.

Other features will include about 1,800 square feet of meeting space; complimentary Wi-Fi access; an ornate bar called Parlay, with an exterior patio with fire pits; and a spacious, 24-hour fitness center.

“The lobby will be stunning,” Branovan said. “You can get drinks there, food there 24/7.”

As overseer of a complex going up little more than 50 yards from the racino, to connect to and complement the racino, Branovan appreciates the importance of cooperation. He said hotel representatives and Meadows officials meet monthly on various matters and work well together.

Hyatt's mantra of cooperation, he added, extends a little farther east, to the Street at the Meadows people. “We have a good symbiotic relationship there,” Branovan said. “We're all about being a good neighbor.”

A new 'Street'

Just next to the Hyatt project, Horizon Properties Group is developing “Street at The Meadows,” a four-story building that will have a total of 90 one- and two-bedroom apartments on the top three floors, with 34,000 square feet of inline retail stores on the ground floor.

Horizon principal Michael Swisher said last week that earthmoving began in late June at the 14.5-acre site that is fronted by Racetrack Road.

Swisher said the apartments should be ready by next summer.

As part of the project, Horizon is also developing four outparcels on the site, which would increase total retail space to 50,000 square feet.

“They're intended for restaurants, but likely one of them will be a bank,” Swisher said, adding that some of the retail components of the project could be ready by next spring.

Jared Imperatore, retail leasing agent for the project, said discussions are occurring with two banks, a national restaurant chain, another regional chain that is about to go national, a diner, a Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant, a florist, a jewelry store and two clothing stores.

“It's been extremely busy,” Imperatore said of the leasing activity.

Tanger adds stores

Jodi Dague can see a lot from her vantage point. She is the general manager at Tanger, high above Racetrack Road and zipping toward its sixth birthday. The activity below is a celebration to her.

“It is very exciting to see all of the growth around us,” Dague said. “Every time a hotel opens, or a new business is announced, or even seeing changes at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino, it helps strengthen our Racetrack 'neighborhood.' We all like to see each other grow and prosper.”

The outlet center certainly has done that, and continues to evolve. Five stores have opened there in 2014 – Janie & Jack, Torrid, Yankee Candle, Express Outlet and H&M – and a sixth is scheduled to open Friday. That's Michael Kors, which has clothing, handbags and accessories.

Almost directly across from Tanger, and hundreds of feet down, is the Holiday Inn Express. The 87-room short-stay hotel had been targeted to open in August. Jerry Hamerski, spokesman for Double J Development, the Morgantown, W.Va.-based owner and developer, could not be reached for comment.

At the opposite end, east of the intersection of Racetrack and Route 19, earth continues to be moved at Park Place. A BFS superstore – with several businesses – opened there last October, and Tender Care Learning Center was the first tenant to start operations in the building behind there.

Earth-moving may begin there soon on an apartment complex featuring 206 units and a hotel may be in the plans, said David Biafora, owner of Metro Property Management, the Morgantown-based developer.

Between there and Tanger, Chapman Properties of Leetsdale plans to break ground in October on an office/retail complex across from The Meadows and on the opposide of the road. Chaprman owns 163 acres there. Tony Rosenberger, vice president and principal, was unavailable for comment.

So it's development, development everywhere along Racetrack – or so it seems. Sean Sullivan realizes it is mandatory, though, even for his venerable venue.

“If you're not staying ahead of the pack,” he said, “you'll be behind the pack.”

Business editor Michael Bradwell contributed to this report.

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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