Below the Surface

In recent months you’ve read here and in many places about uncertainty and mixed signals from the economy. Without question that phenomenon is true here in southwestern PA. The fundamentals of the construction markets are all pointing full speed ahead – rapidly rising home prices with multiple offers and low inventories for sale, single-digit commercial property vacancy rates with effectively no vacancy in the hottest markets, record low interest rates – yet the construction market is stuck in neutral. For many it feels like it is in reverse but the reality is that there is activity going on below the surface that is leading up to a big spike in activity, assuming confidence in the economy returns after the elections or whatever.

A few office projects are moving ahead (besides the Tower at PNC that is). Bill Hunt’s Elmhurst Group is underway on a 90,000 square foot office in Cranberry Crossroads. Elmhurst is also taking bids now on the first 48,000 square foot building of its Commons at Thorn Hill from Burchick, Neyer, Continental, Turner and Walsh Construction. Millcraft has selected Turner Construction as the construction mgr.  for its Gardens project, which should get underway by fall, assuming it can finalize the office leasing deals that have been in the works. Interest in the Gardens has been good, as with the office projects Oxford is planning in South Side and at 350 Fifth. That’s ‘below the surface’ stuff, however, rather than announced leases.

On the surface the bidding activity remains light. The WVU library is attracting a large group of bidders, as are the prequalification efforts for WVU’s $30 million Advanced Engineering and CPASS buildings, which will bid in the fall. Also moving quickly towards bidding in the fall is the first of Highmark/WPAHS ‘medical mall’ sites in Wexford, which will probably be the last of 2012’s big opportunities. Rycon Construction was the low general in last week’s opening for the $20 million Kiski Area Upper Elementary.

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