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Western Pa. developer poised to capitalize

| Friday, May 25, 2007

Westinghouse Electric Co.'s decision to create a new hub for its expanding Western Pennsylvania operations in Cranberry couldn't have come at a better time for the Buncher Co. of Pittsburgh.

The major project, announced in March, boosts Buncher's plan to develop about 165 acres in neighboring Jackson Township.

Buncher, known for savvy property acquisitions in prime development sites, hopes to capitalize on Westinghouse's move, as well as spillover of development already under way in Cranberry and other bustling areas of Butler County and northern Allegheny County.

"The property is strategically placed just off I-79 at the intersection of Routes 19 and 528, and access to these three highways gives this site a unique opportunity for a full range of development alternatives," said Tom Balestrieri, Buncher president.

Buncher, through its Building Exchange Co. affiliate, acquired 155 acres from George Dietz and members of his family for about $3.68 million in March, and 10 acres from Lois Dodge for $525,000 in April, according to documents filed in the office of Butler County recorder of deeds.

The site could grow to 200 acres because Buncher has an agreement to buy about 22 or 24 acres adjacent to the site.

It plans to hire consultants to determine the best use for the property, Balestrieri said. He hopes a conceptual plan will be ready within a year.

"We're starting with a blank page," said Brian Goetz, Buncher vice president and general manager.

"A lot is happening in Butler County with Westinghouse and other things. We are hopeful we will come up with something that the community and Buncher Co. can be proud of and works for everyone."

The 165-acre site is mostly wooded, and preliminary findings estimate about 100 acres are usable. The majority of the site is zoned mixed commercial/office with the southwestern tip zoned residential, Balestrieri said.

Possibilities could include a major housing complex consisting of single-family houses and rental apartments, or a gated community with hotel and golf course, Balestrieri said. The site might house flex-space buildings, or perhaps a senior citizen residence.

Least likely would be warehouse/distribution space, since there already are a number of those types of facilities available in the marketplace, he said.

Westinghouse said in March it will leave its headquarters on Monroeville's Northern Pike and move to the Cranberry Woods Office Park, with plans to eventually bring 2,000 to 3,000 jobs there, including at least 1,000 new hires in the next five years.

It plans to break ground in June on a 400,000-square-foot main building, to be occupied by mid-2009. Work on two additional wings of about 165,000 square feet each will follow.

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