Washington-based Millcraft Investments makes successful transition

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 11:06 p.m.

Pittsburgh's transition from steel town to livable city got a hand from a company with its own history of transformation.

Washington County-based Millcraft Investments began as a steel company that Jack Piatt formed in 1957 from his father's two-man machine shop.

Piatt and his sons turned Millcraft into a top-tier real estate firm whose marquee redevelopment projects include Southpointe in Cecil, Piatt Place in Downtown and the under-construction Gardens at Market Square.

“Our blue-collar roots, much like that of Pittsburgh, taught us that hard work, vision and resilience would ultimately lead to success,” said Jack's son Lucas Piatt, Millcraft's president and chief operating officer.

“There's no question the activity of Millcraft Downtown has made this more of a 24/7 community,” said Jeremy Waldrup, CEO and president of the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership.

Millcraft's biggest focus remains on Downtown, where in addition to the $103 million Gardens at Market Square it is redeveloping the former Saks department store with Mc-Knight Realty Partners “and has plans for two more large-scale projects within a few miles of Downtown,” Lucas Piatt said. “Our investments in the city will have topped $500 million by the time we are complete.”

Even while it operated its steel company led by Jack's oldest son, Jack B. Piatt II, Millcraft was buying, developing and maintaining real estate projects to support its manufacturing needs in 13 areas, including Ohio, Michigan and Alabama, Lucas Piatt said.

The concept for Southpointe began in the 1980s, when Jack Piatt and friend the late Delvin Miller, a well-known harness racing horse driver at The Meadows, saw a large, vacant site off Interstate 79 in Cecil as a ripe spot for development.

With the help of the late U.S. Rep. Frank Mascara and county officials, Millcraft became the marketing agent and developer for the site owned by the Washington County Redevelopment Authority.

Millcraft's ownership there includes Plaza One and Two, plus the Hilton Garden Inn hotel and Jackson's Restaurant. Other investors and developers own the remaining parcels of the 589-acre site that hosts 150 companies, a golf course and 200 homes.

In 2002, the Piatts sold half of their interest in the steel company to what is now SMS Siemag, and three years later sold the rest.

The company's success at Southpointe caught the eye of Herb Burger, who headed then-Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy's task force to redevelop the Fifth-Forbes corridor, Downtown. Burger wanted Millcraft to purchase and develop the former Lazarus building at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, which became Piatt Place.

“We decided to take a gamble on the project, but it was a scary time for us,” Lucas Piatt said. “Even our friends and competitors said we were crazy to take on the project.”

With financial help from the city, Millcraft turned the building into retail space and 65 upscale condominiums, adding several floors atop the structure. Total cost was $80 million. All of the space is leased; three condos remain unsold.

“Their activity has had a definite impact, from Wood Street to the Point to Market Square and along Smithfield Street, which will bring more residents and retail Downtown,” Waldrup said.

Millcraft's Downtown portfolio includes Market Square Place and River Vue apartments in the former State Office Building. Washington County developments include Millcraft Center and Crossroads Center, two office buildings in downtown Washington.

“The success we have achieved in Downtown Pittsburgh is something we would like to extend into other cities where their downtown is still struggling,” Lucas Piatt said. He would like to get more involved in high-technology projects.

“I'm only thinking about those in the future, because my concentration now is on two current projects Downtown,” he said.

The Piatts' family of companies includes Millcraft Hospitality, led by Jack's son Marcus Piatt, to operate hotels at Southpointe, Downtown and Pittsburgh International Airport. Another son, Rod Piatt, started Horizon Properties to develop Southpointe II.

Sam Spatter is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

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