Another Step Forward for the Cracker

As was reported in BreakingNews and BuildingPittsburgh on June 19, the Dept. of Environmental Protection announced today that it had issued the air pollution control permit for the operation of the ethane cracker and polyethylene production facility in Monaca. The permit was a major hurdle to overcome in the planning process for the plant.

The site plan for the proposed polyethylene complex. Image courtesy Shell Chemicals.

The site plan for the proposed polyethylene complex. Image courtesy Shell Chemicals.

Shell spokesman Michael Marr reiterated that the permit is just one piece of the decision-making process but his comments revealed little in the way of further obstacles to the project’s progress.

Additional steps still remain, including implementing the permitted preliminary work at the site, finalizing the engineering and design work for the facility, and continuing to strengthen our long-term feedstock portfolio,” Marr was quoted saying in the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Activity at the site is already heavy. The Mascaro/Trumbull Energy Services team has people working at the site, along with other early works subcontractors. A key project that should be starting soon is the construction of the marina and docks by Joseph B. Fay Co. Much of the cracker plant itself will be fabricated off site and shipped to the project by barge. Look to that project as a key indicator.

Mid-June Buzz

There has been a surprising amount of buzz surrounding the news that Shell closed on the land that on which it proposes to build an ethane cracker. I think that’s a sign of how thirsty we are for news about the decision. From the standpoint of the decision to proceed, the closing is kind of a non-event. Shell can still decide against the project for the time being or walk away and sell the property to someone else.

The bigger news about the cracker is that the needed permits are reported to be in hand. I assume that means that there has been informal word given, since it seems unlikely that DEP would have granted approval without someone announcing it. This, if true, is a big deal because it removes virtually all obstacles to the decision. Shell still wants to prove the long-term sustainability of the gas supply (something of a no-brainer) and then agree to invest in Monaca instead of other capital projects. So far, any guesses I’ve heard about when the final call will be are just that: guesses.

The last few weeks have seen the start of a bunch of small projects that have been around for a while. Village Theater Co. chose A. Martini & Co. to build it $2 million new theater in Sewickley. That’s the third new building to get underway in Sewickley this month. Oberg Industries awarded W. K. Thomas & Associates the contract to build its 67,000 sq. ft. expansion. Chapman Properties is getting ready to start construction on a new 23,575 sq. ft. Skyzone trampoline center in Monroeville.

In news of more companies entering the Pittsburgh market, Reynolds Construction opened an office in the RIDC O’Hara. The new office is located at 634 Alpha Drive, Suite 1100, Pittsburgh, PA 15238. The Pittsburgh office will be led for now by company President Jeff Merritt.

Some Long-Awaited Starts

Waukesha Pearce Industries awarded the construction of its new $8 million, 45,000 sq. ft. facility to New-Belle Construction. The high-bay building will be used to service and distribute WPI’s heavy gas engines, being used by the natural gas industry. The building was designed by Desmone Architects.

Uber selected Continental Building Systems as construction manager for the build-out of its new 53,000 sq. ft. space in Lawrenceville.

TBI Contracting is starting construction on two new buildings in Sewickley village. The first is a 10,000 sq. ft. commercial building that will house a new Crazy Mocha on the ground floor. The second is the Vanguard Village office, a 30,000 sq. ft. spec building being developed by Forbes Trail Development and PWA Real Estate.

Those commuters creeping up or down Greentree Hill will soon see the the new Greentree Primary Care Center II coming out of the ground. Burns & Scalo Real Estate is developing the 44,000 sq. ft. GPCCII as a spec building for healthcare users.

Rendering of GPCC-II by DLA+ Architecture

Rendering of GPCC-II by DLA+ Architecture

Great Jobs Reports

This morning’s report on May job creation was well above the expectations of various economists. The Dept. of Labor Statistics reported 280,000 new jobs created in May. That followed on the heels of ADP’s report on Wednesday of 210,000 private sector jobs added and a PA Dept. of Labor report that Metro Pittsburgh saw 24,000 jobs added in May.

The raw numbers were good but ther were some more subtle improvements within today’s report. The majority of which were in service, healthcare and education – all higher paying jobs – and the average wage showed a 2.3% increase year-over-year. That’s an expansion of the trend of growing wage rates. Another good number was the increase in the unemployment rate to 5.5%. That indicates that the stronger labor market is attracting more permanent workers who weren’t in the market to look for jobs.

May's job creation continues a pattern of strong recovery from the weak winter economy.

May’s job creation continues a pattern of strong recovery from the weak winter.

Although the regional bid market is still seasonally slow, there is movement on some of the higher-profile jobs. Some preliminary pricing is being done on the complicated re-purposing of the upper floors at the Macy’s Building. CMU has let contracts for the extension of its utilities infrastructure to prepare for construction new utility service north of Forbes for the Tepper Quad. While there is no confirmation from anyone involved in the Google TI at Bakery Square 2.0, it appears that PJ Dick has been selected to do the build-out. PJ Dick has also been selected as construction mgr. for the $12 million, 50,000 sq. ft. new school for the Watson Institute in South Fayette Township. Work has started on the $12.4 million McKee Elementary School in West Allegheny School District. Hudson Construction is the general contractor.

Rendering by McLean Architects of the new Watson Institute school in South Fayette.

Rendering by McLean Architects of the new Watson Institute school in South Fayette.

Less to Bid, More to Build

With all the recent announcements of big projects in the pipeline, it’s hard not to be bullish on construction in Western PA; however, the current market is less than target-rich. Bidding has slowed significantly, even for Memorial Day, and it appears that the early summer period will be slower than last year until some of the projects that are in preconstruction are put out by the CM.

Among the projects awarded recently are the $9.8 million CCAC West Hall, awarded to Allegheny Construction Group; a $1.7 million renovation and expansion of Riverview Children’s Center in Verona, which will be built by A. Martini & Co. and the St. Sebastian’s Narthex expansion in Ross that Rycon Construction is building. PJ Dick has started work on the $100 million+ research and office for Johnson Controls in York PA.

Two interesting real estate deals announced this week should bring construction opportunities as early as the end of summer. Uber Technologies signed a lease in the 53,000 sq. ft. former Restaurant Depot space in Lawrenceville. Strada Architecture is designing the fit-out. Uber is in the process of selecting a CM. A list of contractors could not be confirmed but the company is rumored to be talking to Continental Building Systems, PJ Dick and Franjo. Faros Properties unveiled its plans for the former Allegheny Center Mall yesterday, branding the 1.2 million sq. ft. space as Nova Place. Estimates of the investment needed were in the $200 million range.

Oxford Ready to Start Work on 250 Industry Drive

Oxford Development Co. announced that it had landed an anchor tenant and was holding a groundbreaking ceremony on May 18 for its $13 million 250 Industry Drive flex office project in Findlay Township. Oxford said that the tenant would be revealed at the 10:00 ceremony. Al Neyer Inc. is the contractor for the 85,000 square foot project.

A. Martini & Company was the apparent low bidder on the $1.8 million phase three of the addition to St. Ferdinand’s Roman Catholic Church in Cranberry township.

Mixed Bag of Starts in April

With some of the more desirable projects in the region in the final stages before starting – Ensinger Plastics, GE, Union Trust Building – there were a handful of nonresidential projects started in April that underscore the strength of the regional economy at the moment.

In the ultra-tight industrial/flex space market, Al Neyer got underway with a new 47,245 sq. ft. building at Elmhurst’s Airside Business Park in Moon Twp. and the new 86,000 sq. ft. warehouse and office for Paragon Foods at the RIDC Thorn Hill Industrial Park in Marshall Twp. Buncher started work on the 77,000 sq. ft. Building 2000 at its Jackson’s Pointe Commerce Park north of Zelienople. Modal Construction is building industrial flex Building 3 and 5 for the Ridilla Family Trust in Hempfield, totaling 52,000 sq. ft.

Suburban neighborhood retail continues to flourish in the face of an industry-wide shift in balance between bricks-and-mortar and online sales. Montana’s Ribs and Chops is being built out by Gilcon Construction at Southpointe Town Center. Another Five Guys Burgers is going into the Old Mill in Washington PA. Metro Properties has started the next building at its Park Place development at Race Track Road and Route 19.

School work is gearing up for summer. Yarborough was awarded the general contract for a $1 million vestibule security project at several Hampton Township schools. Work in underway at Moon, West Allegheny and North Allegheny School District projects. In the private sector, Groom Construction from Boston has started on a new 10,000 sq. ft. Kiddie Academy in Bridgeville.