Development company wants to build 10-business strip mall in Cranberry Township
The Derrick, 8/9/02 By JUDITH O. ETZEL

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Venango County's fastest growing retail area is about to expand again.

JRA Development Corp., developer of the Route 322 tract that houses Wal-Mart and a slew of other retailers, plans to build a new 10-business strip mall in an area between Busy Beaver and McDonalds.

In addition, the development company is eyeing the construction of an apartment complex at the same location.

"We have a lot of demand from people who want space in that complex, especially now that the hospital is going up," said Jim Aiello, a partner in the JRA Development Corp.

JRA Development, a private company based in Pittsburgh, began its foray into Venango County in 1998 when it purchased the 75-acre Flinchbaugh estate along Route 322 across from the Cranberry Mall for about $2 million.

Since that purchase, the company has completed deals with large retailers like Wal-Mart and Staples as well as smaller shops. The most recent project was a $700,000 multi-tenant strip mall along one side of the Wal-Mart plaza. The mall houses several tenants, including Radio Shack and Fashion Bug.

Aiello said the new mall will offer 25,000 square feet and can house 10 tenants. The single building will be similar to the first strip mall on the lot, he said.

"We already have letters of intent for a rent-to-own company and a gourmet Chinese buffet restaurant and there has been interest expressed from a federal government agency," Aiello said.

Although Aiello declined to reveal what federal agency has inquired, there is speculation it will be the Social Security Administration which has been eyeing various properties in the area. The office is located now on Seneca Street in Oil City.

The cost of the strip mall construction is $1.5 million, Aiello said. It should be completed by spring or early summer 2003, he said, and will offer full-time employment to more than 75 people.

There is more development in the offing, he added, since JRA has two vacant lots remaining in the Wal-Mart plaza.

"We have two parcels left and we are investigating an apartment complex, a private housing development that includes townhouses. Those properties are one behind Staples and one behind Busy Beaver," Aiello said.

The building spurt is tied directly to the location of the new $65 million UPMC Northwest hospital off Route 257 in Cranberry Township, Aiello suggested. The four-story hospital, plus a $2.5 million behavioral health building, should be completed by the fall of 2004.

One other project also appears to be in the works for the Wal-Mart plaza. Sunoco Inc. is reportedly considering the construction of an oil change facility in a corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot.

The proposed developments follow a busy building year in which $5.2 million in new construction was listed in Cranberry Township for 2001. Large projects under way now include a $270,000 expansion at Nelson's Animal Clinic and the construction of a new $270,000 bakery, both along Route 257. Community Ambulance, too, plans to open a terminal in the township.

A tentative plan by JRA Development to build an apartment complex reflects an ongoing interest in new housing projects in Cranberry Township.

Emrick Acres, a 44-lot project off Gilmore Road, was launched a year ago. Plans are also under way for a 17-lot development known as The Woodlands off Route 322 and a 12-lot project by the Cranberry Area Development Corp. off Bredinsburg Road.