Tall trees have been cut down at the wooded corner of McKnight and Cumberland roads in McCandless, leaving a startling gap in what used to be familiar forested terrain.
The clearing will help convert property that once was part of the La Roche College campus and the site of a baseball diamond into McCandless Crossing's new 250,000-square-foot Town Center.
This is the fourth and final phase of the retail, office, entertainment, commercial and residential complex centered on McKnight at Duncan Avenue. It already contains businesses such as Lowe's, IHOP, LA Fitness and CVS.
"Creating an environmentally green project with places for people to live, work and play is one of our main goals," said developer Kevin Dougherty, president of AdVenture Development, based in North Carolina.
Mr. Dougherty said the project is years from completion.
"It depends on the weather -- and with the winter we had this year and the rainy spring and the summer, I could say five years," he said. "We've had the hardest time moving dirt because every day it rains, it takes two days to dry out."
The complex is being developed in phases. The first phase on the west side of McKnight bordered by Cumberland Road and Duncan Avenue is anchored by Lowe's and includes tenants such as DiBellas Subs and Handel's Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt.
The second phase is across McKnight and south of Duncan. It consists of WesBanco, formerly Fidelity Bank, and CVS, both of which are open.
The third phase is west of McKnight and south of Duncan and contains a just-opened Hilton Home 2 Suites, LA Fitness and Doodle Bugs! Children's Center.
New businesses, offices and homes will soon begin to fill in the gaps.
The fourth phase of the decades-long plan is in the initial stages of development. It will take advantage of the McKnight Road frontage.
Among the businesses will be Fresh Market, Earth Fare and Trader Joe's, one of which Mr. Dougherty said would bring new dimensions to the food industry not currently in the North Hills.
McCandless council in July approved land development applications for Dick's Sporting Goods and nationwide restaurant chains Bonefish Grill and Carrabba's Italian Grill.
Mr. Dougherty said that Cinemark's 12-screen movie theater could open in the spring, along with HomeGoods and Dick's. Other businesses slated for the site are First Watch, a breakfast and lunch restaurant; Panera Bread; and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
"We intend to build a second hotel behind the Cinemark Theater fronting Providence Blvd, above Holy Trinity," Mr. Dougherty said. He estimated that it will open in late 2015. "We've had numerous calls from people with weddings and events coming up. There's strong evidence that there's a need for more hotel rooms in the area."
To meet the demand for more homes, Mr. Dougherty said, Heartland Homes plans to build 53 townhomes along Cumberland Road.
More residential units likely will be built near the Carson Middle School campus in the second phase.
Tobias Cordek, McCandless manager, said the concept of a town center came from officials at La Roche.
It was in their sales agreement that AdVenture would build under Traditional Neighborhood Development provisions according to the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.
"The TND features good design principles and environmental sensitivities, but realize that what is being created is an urbanized area," Mr. Cordek said. "Ours is not huge and not intended to be a regional draw, but rather fulfill local needs for goods and services."
Among those needs was a hotel. When Home 2 Suites by Hilton held its grand opening recently, the all-suite, extended-stay 119-room hotel was full of guests and had many future bookings.
The hotel donated $2,500 to the cancer center at UPMC Passavant.
Libby Shumaker, director of clinical operations, said the center sees more than 200 patients a day and having a hotel nearby will be convenient for those from out of town.
LA Fitness, which opened in August 2011, has a reciprocal relationship with the hotel for gym passes for its guests, general manager George Luck siad.
"This is a prime location," he said, noting that 75 percent of his business is referrals. "This area is up and coming because of the North Allegheny School District. I'm seeing an influx of people from all the over the world."
Students from McKnight Elementary School can use a pathway to get to Handel's for after-school desserts.
David Higginbotham of Handel's said he has been employing high school students at the ice cream shop, vetting them through his wife, Kathy, who teaches family and consumer science in North Allegheny. "Our opening day was one of the strongest opening days in Handel's history," he said.
He plans to have an ice cream cart in the future town center.
The most recent business to open is Arista Catering and Event Planning, which was featured during an open house Sunday at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church's new building.
Located in the church's banquet and conference facility on Babcock Boulevard, owner Frank Erdeljac and his family are looking forward to serving the community, town center and church through life celebrations and business events.
"Realize that all the special occasions we share usually revolve around food," said Mr. Erdeljac, 60, of Ross, whose family-run business includes Mediterrano Restaurant in Ross. "We're looking forward to becoming a focal point for the community to come and share in their most memorable events of their lives, in addition to social and business events."
Keller Williams Real Estate agent Mike Netzel said the local rental and home sales market is starting to pick up.
"People don't like to go far to shop, and this area will soon have it all: the hospital, the churches, the shops, the office buildings, restaurants and theater, as well as a residential component," he said.
A native of the North Hills, Mr. Dougherty noted that Pittsburgh has become one of the best real estate markets in the country, attracting young people like it never did before.
"It used to be that Pittsburgh gets things five to 10 years after cities like Raleigh and Charlotte, but now Pittsburgh is on the top of that circuit," he said, crediting the region's diverse economy, strong service sector, 39 colleges and universities, cultural diversity and popular sports teams. "Plus, this is a fantastic place to live and raise a family."
Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.