Cranberry Township in midst of latest flurry of commercial development
By JUDITH O. ETZEL

Photo by Jerry Sowden - Under a tent of plastic and scaffolding, construction workers stack brick and mortar as they build the south wall of the new strip mall in Cranberry Township.

The developer of a major building project in Cranberry Township is negotiating leases with a number of retail and other businesses, including an agreement that will move the Social Security Administration office out of downtown Oil City.

In addition, the developer is eyeing two residential developments in the same general area. One would include 30 or more townhouses and the other may result in several new single-family homes.

NEW STRIP MALL

Construction of a 24,000-square foot $1.5 million strip mall, known as Cranberry Plaza II, is under way on property between McDonald's Restaurant and the Busy Beaver home and hardware store off Route 322 near Wal-Mart.

Ground was broken in late November, and the work is expected to be done by May, according to James Aiello, a partner in the Pittsburgh-based JRA Development firm.

JRA Development has been working in Venango County since 1998 when it purchased a 75-acre farm along Route 322 across from Cranberry Mall. The company has completed property deals with Wal-Mart, Staples, Busy Beaver and others on that former farmland. It also built and leased the multi-tenant Kimberly strip mall between Wal-Mart and Route 322.

"We enjoy working with Cranberry Township, and I think it is one of the best to work with of all those (municipalities) we do business in," said Aiello. "Our newest project there should be done in May. And we are looking at other work there."

Cranberry Plaza II, he said, will be anchored by the regional Social Security office, located for a number of years at 42 Seneca St. on Oil City's North Side. The office serves Venango, Clarion and Forest counties, all of Titusville and portions of three surrounding counties.

Negotiations are continuing with other potential renters, said Aiello, including an Asian buffet restaurant, financial services company, electronic game store, shoe store, sandwich shop and others.

"We anticipate having the building leased by mid-February. The activity has been pretty good, and I think we'll end up with eight tenants, offering a total of 70 to 80 jobs," said Aiello.

Two smaller buildings - one to house a drive-through coffee shop and the other to accommodate a walk-up ice cream business - are also in the strip mall project plans.

Aiello said JRA Development has at least two other construction projects in mind for property along Route 322.

"We've had very preliminary discussions with the township about a housing project on land behind Busy Beaver. I'm reasonably sure it will not be a rental thing but duplexes or townhouses. And it would not be less than 30 or 40 of them," said Aiello.

The second project, he added, involves the construction of about 10 single-family dwellings on acreage behind the Staples store on Route 322. That, too, is in the early planning stage.

OTHER CHANGES

There are other business developments in the works in Cranberry Township.

The former Annie's Bridal Shop property along Route 257 has been sold to Hile-Best Funeral Home of Emlenton. A partner, Christopher Hile, has funeral homes in Emlenton and St. Petersburg.

The 155-seat Bob Evans Restaurant under construction near the Wal-Mart parcel is nearly finished. The $560,000 building project also includes an 86-spot parking lot.

Black's Bakery on Route 257 may be relocating to a smaller building nearby. Reports indicate the bakery owners are considering a plan to set up shop alongside Black's Insurance building.

Pappan's Restaurant in the Cranberry Mall is reportedly planning a major renovation and expansion project, one that will result in a larger facility and new name. Once the work is completed, the business will be known as The Red Onion Grille.

Meanwhile, sewage service problems continue to plague developers trying to locate a Home Depot store on vacant land adjacent to Staples. The national chain announced several months ago it was interested in the property, and its building plans have since been approved by the Venango County Planning Commission.

But the company will not be able to tie in to existing public sewerage lines because they are overloaded. That leaves Home Depot with the chore of developing its own sewage facilities plan and system.