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The Best-Laid Plans

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In 1982, a team of developers spotted a parcel of land that had the earmarks of a prime retail location. It was just a stretch from downtown Pittsburgh, and adjacent to one of the region’s most traveled thoroughfares—Parkway West (U.S. 22/30).

But the site wasn’t ready. It needed to be strip-mined and it also required the construction of a highway interchange for access. So the idea was dismissed.

Fast forward to 2005. Howard Biel, senior managing director of Faison Enterprises, Inc., of Charlotte, N.C., traveled to Pittsburgh for a meeting with a banker. He had been among the group who saw potential in the vacant land many years earlier. “I passed the same site and noticed an interchange being put in. The site may be ready for development, I thought,” Biel told Chain Store Age. Faison got busy making plans.

Then in May 2006, at an International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention, Biel met with longtime industry acquaintance Mark Mancuso, senior VP of development for CBL & Associates Properties of Chattanooga, Tenn. In a private meeting in CBL’s booth, they started to fashion a deal.

Fifteen months later—and 25 years after the parcel was first spotted—the two firms announced they bought the land and would jointly develop it. The result is Settlers Ridge, a 600,000-sq.-ft. lifestyle center slated to open in summer 2009. Faison controls 60%, CBL 40%.

The open-air, mixed-use property will feature a flagship 175,000-sq.-ft. Giant Eagle Market District supermarket as an anchor at one end and, at the other, a 16-screen Cinemark Theatre with stadium seating. Other committed tenants include REI and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. In addition, the site will contain 150,000 sq. ft. of specialty retail and eight to 10 restaurants.

When it comes to dining, “P.F. Chang’s has helped set the bar,” said CBL’s Mancuso. “Then we want variety—to offer breakfast and casual dining—to complement every type of eating desire. We are well on our way.”

There will be a two-level, 40,000-sq.-ft. health-and-fitness center and a 30,000-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art bookstore.

Settlers Ridge’s park-like features will include a central square. And while design details are still being worked out, the concept is to create a feeling of an old-style downtown through the use of appointments such as attractive lighting, park benches, street-side kiosks and pushcarts. The developers want to engage the local community and student groups as well, by offering a venue for art and music presentations.

A hotel or two will also become a part of the landscape, said Biel.

The name Settlers Ridge was born by combining geographic landmarks—Settlers Cabin, a nearby family park known for its wave pool—and Ridge Road, a local interchange.

Much has changed since Biel and his colleagues first visualized an opportunity in Robinson Township, Pa. The Settlers Ridge property is now surrounded by 4.5 million sq. ft. of retail. It is situated in the middle of Pittsburgh’s largest concentration of office space outside downtown. It can draw shoppers from the approximately 750,000 people who are within a 20-minute drive of the center. Add to that the guests at the 40 hotels in the area.

The location couldn’t be better, said Biel. “The parts of Pittsburgh that everybody knows are the downtown and the airport. We are sitting between the two.”

© 2014