Owners: Lot in Pittsburgh airport corridor holds much development promise

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After spending the last 31 years parking cars near Pittsburgh International Airport, Charlie Brown is ready to take a stab at something new -- office development.

Mr. Brown, owner of Charlie Brown's Airport Parking, is one of three partners in CRD Development LLC, which is proposing a 335,000- to 375,000-square-foot office development on 30 acres of land off Flaugherty Run Road in Findlay.

So what possesses a longtime parking operator to try his hand at real estate development?

"We think the time has come," Mr. Brown said. "With Dick's [Sporting Goods headquarters] across the street and everything that's going on with gas, we feel it's finally coming into its own."

CRD bought the land from Atlanta-based Park 'N Fly, which at one time used part of the property for parking as a competitor to Charlie Brown's. It finalized the purchase earlier this week. The price was not disclosed.

"I think the timing is perfect for development in this corridor. Five to 10 years ago it wasn't. Now I think it's right. I'm very confident," said Ronald Sofranko, owner of Sofranko Advisory Group LLC and another of the partners in the endeavor.

CRD is hoping to recruit a company to build an office campus on the 30 acres, which fronts Business Loop 376. Mr. Sofranko said the site, dubbed Findlay Crossings, is about 10 minutes from Royal Dutch Shell's proposed ethane cracker facility in Monaca and a stone's throw from the airport.

The development team is confident enough of the site's potential that it intends to erect a 50,000- to 75,000-square-foot four-story office building on speculation, meaning without a tenant, starting within the next six months.

Mr. Sofranko, a restaurant and real estate developer who is part owner of Il Pizzaiolo in Market Square and a managing partner in Jergel's Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, said CRD already is talking to corporations about building on the site.

He would not name any of them, although he noted that energy companies, including Shell, are obvious targets.

The site, Mr. Sofranko said, could accommodate three 100,000-square-foot office buildings or six or so 50,000-square-foot buildings.

"It's flexible based on use," he noted. "We have several different plans. It's really based on the tenant."

Mr. Brown also plans to use five to 10 acres of the site for his parking business. The other partner in the office development is David Dietrich.

Plans for the development are the latest evidence of a resurgence in the Parkway West corridor, which has seen office vacancy rates drop from 18 percent at the end of 2011 to 14.3 percent at the end of last year. The tightening market has been accompanied by a building boom.

In April, Moon-based developer DiCicco Development Inc. announced plans to build a five-story, 130,000-square-foot office building off the Montour Run interchange of the Parkway West.

Elmhurst Group and the Erect Fund are partnering on a separate development -- a single-story, 45,000- to 50,000-square-foot building in Moon at the Airside Business Park, the former Greater Pittsburgh International Airport terminal.

Likewise, Continental Real Estate Cos. and Chaska Property Advisors of Cranberry are working on their third office building in less than a year in Moon adjacent to Cherrington business park. The first two will be leased to ServiceLink, a mortgage services company.

And Chevron recently announced that it had reached agreements to acquire 61 acres off Montour Run Road in Moon, including the site of a Kmart superstore, for a possible regional headquarters.

Experts said the renewal is being driven by the demands for space by energy, financial services and general business companies. Firms also are turning to the corridor as office space in Southpointe and Cranberry fills up.

businessnews - neigh_west

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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