Cranberry Twp, Penn., July 18, 2013 – Pittsburgh Penguins and UPMC sign letter of intent with AEI owner Gary Sippel to build 180,000-square-foot development facility.  Details from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

PITTSBURGH (Post-Gazette) — The Pittsburgh Penguins and UPMC have made the development equivalent of a  goalie change in their quest to build a $70 million sports performance center  and practice rink in Cranberry.

After working with developer Don Rodgers for nearly a year to build the  complex on a 35-acre site on Route 228, they have abandoned the property for  another location less than half a mile away but closer to Interstate 79.

Travis Williams, the Penguins’ chief operating officer, said Tuesday the team  and UPMC have signed a letter of intent with developer Gary Sippel to build the  180,000-square-foot facility on a parcel adjacent to the interstate.

The move comes only two weeks after a UPMC official appeared before the  Cranberry planning commission to detail plans for the complex at Mr. Rodgers’  Village of Cranberry Woods development.

But Albert L. Wright Jr., a vice president who oversees UPMC’s sports  medicine programs and facilities, said the site was never set in stone. He said  UPMC and the Penguins have been concurrently examining the Sippel property for  the last six months and decided that it “made the most sense” for the project  based on cost, feasibility and timetable.

“When you put all of the factors together, at the end of the day, what both  UPMC and the Penguins concluded was that the Sippel site was a better site for  us,” Mr. Williams said.

The new site is located on the northeast side of Route 228 at I-79. Mr.  Williams and Mr. Wright said it offers greater visibility from the interstate  than the Cranberry Woods site as well as good access.

Mr. Rodgers said he was “very disappointed” about losing the complex and  seemed to blame the township for the turn of events. He said it took a long time  to get the proposed development before the planning commission and that “we ran  out of time to deliver a pad to UPMC for their facility.

“I am upset about how long it took to get to the point that we ran out of  time,” he said.

Mr. Rodgers said the traditional neighborhood design requirements imposed by  Cranberry also made the project too expensive. He also accused the township of  imposing “ridiculous requirements” above and beyond the ordinance that proved to  be “insurmountable,” including a $1 million contribution for off-site  improvements.

“I believe [UPMC and the Penguins] questioned whether we could get our site  approved without significant changes and time delays. Therefore, they moved to a  site that doesn’t have the obstruction of the traditional neighborhood design  ordinance,” he said.

The Sippel site is zoned differently than Mr. Rodgers’ and does not have to  meet the same design requirements.

Ron Henshaw, Cranberry’s director of community development, said Mr. Rodgers  had requested the zoning for the Cranberry Woods site because it allowed for  greater density than he would have received in any other zoning district.

As for the contributions toward off-site improvements, he said that Cranberry  requires developers to pay for the impact their projects will have on its  infrastructure.

“Either developers pay for it or taxpayers pay for it. We make developers  foot the bill,” he said.

With the decision to change sites, UPMC and the Penguins will be “starting  all over” in their quest to get the complex approved, Mr. Henshaw said. He added  he was surprised they abandoned the Cranberry Woods development.

“We’ve been working for a long time on the Don Rodgers site with these folks.  Quite frankly, we had just gotten to the point with the details that things were  looking very favorable,” he said.

UPMC and the Penguins hope to start construction of the complex at the new  site during the first quarter of 2014 and have it completed by July 2015. It  will be built and owned by UPMC and the Penguins will lease space.

The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, as the facility will be officially known,  will feature two ice rinks, one with 500 seats and one with 1,000. The latter  will serve as the team’s chief practice facility when Consol Energy Center is  not available.

Penguins officials see the facility as a first of its kind in the country. It  would be geared primarily toward hockey players, although it would be open to  other athletes as well.

The sports medicine side, patterned after UPMC’s sports performance complex  on the South Side, would feature an array of imaging suites and other  state-of-the-art tools to help treat injuries and improve performance. There  also would be rehabilitation and therapy areas.

In addition, the center would have a restaurant or cafe and a store that  sells Penguins merchandise.

When the Penguins aren’t practicing at the complex, the rinks would be open  to the public for skating and other events, including youth, high school, and  college games, hockey camps, skating classes, learn-to-play programs and  clinics. The center also would be the home of the Penguins Elite youth hockey  program sponsored by the team.

The Penguins view the complex as another step in their developing partnership  with UPMC, which provided doctors to travel with the team on the road last  season, a first for a National Hockey League team.

And while the Cranberry Woods site did not work out for the team and UPMC,  officials think they have found the right match with the new location.

“We’ve done a fair amount of due diligence and feel fairly confident that  we’ll be able to close this and move forward along the timeline of opening it by  July of 2015,” Mr. Williams said.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262 First Published July 16, 2013 6:06 pm

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