Cranberry Woods Business Park

If it weren’t for the astonishing short-sightedness of local leaders elsewhere in the area, Cranberry Woods - now the region’s premier office park - would probably have been built somewhere else.

Mine Safety Appliances had already been around for decades when, in late 1970, the federal Occupational Safety and Health law was enacted. For the first time, it required industrial companies to buy safety equipment for their employees, and it gave a tremendous boost to MSA, which had, for most of its history, languished in a dreary factory building in Wilkinsburg, producing and shipping personal protective equipment. So it built a new factory in Murrysville to handle the surge.

But by the late ‘70s, the company determined it would need yet another new location, this time for its emerging business in electronic sensors, detectors and imaging gear. And it found what it thought was a perfect spot in Hampton, near the Turnpike entrance.

Cranberry WoodsThe company’s plans visualized a major investment in a modern factory and office complex where it would design and produce high-tech equipment with its highly-educated workforce, on what was, at the time, a completely undeveloped site. But local leaders saw it differently.

“They said: No way. We don’t want any factories here. We want this to be woods, and we don’t want you guys here,” MSA’s Chief Financial Officer, Dennis Zeitler recently recalled. So the company’s search resumed, this time farther north. That was when they learned that a 327-acre Methodist church camp - the current site of Cranberry Woods - was available.

This was well before I-279 North to Pittsburgh had been built and long before the Turnpike/I-79 connector had come into being. Although business along Rt. 19 was already booming, 228 was still a tranquil, two-lane road. So MSA bought the land and, by 1985, completed its own complex of four connected buildings at the back of the property, screened from view by acres of woodland.

A Good Investment

Then the company got approached by a big box retailer. It wanted 100 acres of MSA’s property along 228 for a shopping center. The offer confirmed that the property had gained value, but that particular use didn’t sit well with MSA. “I didn’t want anyone coming up and saying: ‘To find MSA, you go to Wal-Mart and make a right.’ We didn’t like that at all,” Zeitler said. “So if this place is really valuable, what use would fit best with what MSA is trying to do here?”

The answer was to turn the company’s surplus property into a first class office park. “No warehousing, no industrial, no assembly, no server farms - just high-end office space,” he said. “There are very few Class A office parks around Pittsburgh. Most are what they call ‘flex parks.’ They have warehouses with big trucks going through every day, and minimal office space. The purpose of this park is to generate high quality jobs, filled by great people, with a full-service hotel.”

Finding a Partner

Eventually, MSA found a partner in Trammel Crow, a developer with the experience to create a park which matched the company’s vision. And it was a vision enthusiastically shared by Cranberry Township’s own Board of Supervisors, whose support for the project has since been repeatedly validated by new companies and residents moving in.

Today, with twelve office structures, two hotels, a classroom building, and more than 7,000 employees in place, only three undeveloped parcels in the park remain. One will be used for a high-end apartment community, another for a medical facility, and a third will become part of an expanded I-79 traffic interchange. All will be complete by 2014 - the centennial of MSA’s founding.

“We bought this property never knowing what a great location it was going to be; when we moved here, there was just a blinker on 19,” Zeitler said. “But the professional nature of the people we deal with at Cranberry Township and the fact that they have the same vision as we do, really made it possible. There are lots of other townships where this would have never happened. In another two years, when these last few projects are done, we will have the best business park between Chicago and Philadelphia.”