Pittsburgh-area developer eyes purchase of former Derry ceramics plant site

Jeff Himler
8 Min Read

A long-vacant former industrial site in the middle of Derry Borough could see renewed life if all goes well with the planned purchase of the 18-acre site by a Pittsburgh-area developer.

Westmoreland County’s Land Bank and Redevelopment Authority have a conditional agreement to sell the former Porcelain Park at Route 217 and West Third Street to Landmark Properties Group of Allison Park for $325,000.

The sale is subject to a six-month due diligence contingency, as Landmark works with Harvest Commercial Real Estate Services to seek tenants for the property, said Brian Lawrence, executive director of the Land Bank and Redevelopment Authority.

The intent is to develop the site for light industrial use by companies needing anywhere from 10,000 square feet to 170,000 square feet, he said.

In addition to being along Route 217, a connector to routes 30 and 22, the property is along the Norfolk Southern Railroad main line between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

“These types of sites are a rare occurrence across the entire Southwestern Pennsylvania region,” Lawrence said. “It’s a unique opportunity.”

“We are very excited about this opportunity because the site has many capabilities for small users as well as a larger company needing rail service at the site provided by Norfolk Southern,” said Bob Ferree, CEO of Landmark Properties. “We had a sense when discussing the site with Brian Lawrence that our expertise in developing multi-tenanted buildings would be a great asset to the site and Derry Borough.”

Formed in 1984, Landmark has developed, managed and leased properties in several states, including office and retail centers in Cranberry.

The Land Bank and Redevelopment Authority made the connection with Landmark through the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. (IDC), which fields developer inquiries about available properties such as the former Porcelain Park. According to the IDC website, the site has the proposed name Derry Business Park, Lawrence said.

“This is the perfect marriage between working with a developer and smaller businesses that don’t have the wherewithal or interest to build their own buildings,” Lawrence said. “I think there are still good signs in the economy. There are small businesses that are bursting at the seams with work and are ready to take the next step.”

County officials also worked in cooperation with borough leaders.

Sara Cowan, president of Derry Council and the Derry Area Revitalization Corp., said the borough has agreed to maintain any interior roads developed on the former Porcelain Park property, and an agreement is in place for the borough municipal authority to provide water and sewage service.

“It would mean so much for Derry Borough if that were to get developed,” Cowan said. “The community as a whole has had high hopes to have it developed into something to bring people and money here, to help us get on the map instead of people driving through to get to the next town.

“Maybe it would spark interest in our business district just a few blocks away and having other small businesses coming here — a restaurant for the workers.”

Though the long years of dormancy at the site have made her somewhat skeptical, council Vice President Barbara Phillips said there is room for optimism if a developer can host a group of smaller businesses.

“Selling it all to one would be a great benefit, but it could go the same way as ICI,” she said, referring to Industrial Ceramics Inc., whose plant occupied most of the site and employed about 200 before it closed in 1995. The ceramics plant was a major source of jobs for decades in the community — previously operated by Westinghouse, which produced insulators for electric power lines.

“That’s our linchpin,” she said of the site. “Once we get that moving, we can build on that to reestablish the town.”

Though there would be an initial five-year abatement as an incentive, revived tax revenue from the site would provide a much-needed financial boost for the municipality.

“I’m very hopeful for a positive improvement,” borough Councilman Nathan Bundy said. “It’s been a long search for a buyer. If we get something in there, we’re going to get more revenue from taxes, and we can use that to revitalize and to pursue some other initiatives.”

“We’re certainly long overdue for a break,” Councilman Al Checca said. He said the site is “a constant reminder of what once was there. We need development there to stir up some excitement in the community again so that property values can possibly go up.”

Lawrence acknowledged there have been challenges in preparing for redevelopment. Most of the site has been in county hands for about a decade, but he said there was a delay in obtaining a separately owned fraction of an acre until 2021, when a bankruptcy proceeding for that property was finalized.

He said the majority of the site has received state environmental clearance to proceed with the type of light industrial development that is envisioned, but it could take a few months to complete the process for the smaller area.

Lawrence said PVC pipes were placed into the ground to obtain water samples as a result of underground fuel tanks having been removed from the property. But, he said, some pipes were damaged and had to be replaced after one of the last remaining structures at the site — the former Ralph Smith & Son auto repair shop — was destroyed in a June 2022 arson.

He said Landmark is “fully aware of this. We’re going to do everything by the book.”

After the ceramics plant closed, the site was repositioned as the multi-tenant Porcelain Park, whose occupants briefly included Pittsburgh Electric Engines before that company relocated to the Mt. Pleasant area and was acquired by WATT Fuel Cell.

The complex eventually became vacant and in disrepair, and it was demolished.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Jeff Himler triblive.com

2024-01-07 13:01:00 , "site:" – Vivrr Local

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