Thomson Business Park
Alfred E. Thomson, III was visionary. As a developer of both commercial and residential properties, he didn’t select sites for his building projects based on where the market happened to be at the time. Instead, he chose them because of where the market appeared to be going.
Back in the early ’70s, he built his company’s current office, Arcadia Center, on a previously wooded stretch of McKnight Road in McCandless. From that vantage point, along with his son Alfred E. Thomson IV, he watched as traffic raced north from Ross Township on to Wexford. And later, they watched as traffic looked for shortcuts to Cranberry.
“My dad started out as a builder in the North Hills, and just saw the growth heading north,” the younger Thomson recalls. “Back in the ‘80s he developed a lot in Franklin Park, which was a growing community at the time. Once he conquered that, he moved on to Cranberry Township. And he did some development in Jackson Township. So he’d go where the growth was.
“But he’d always do things way ahead of when they actually worked,” Thomson noted. “That was inventive, but it was also a bit of a curse because it was hard to educate people in Pittsburgh that Cranberry was going to be the next hot place, or that people would want to live in Jackson Township. He was always ahead of the curve, which meant people had to catch up to him. So sometimes it would take longer to get projects done.”
The Beginning of the Business Park
By 1989, Thomson had acquired a sizable piece of undeveloped land on Rochester Road in Cranberry, just west of St. Ferdinand’s church, and built the first of what would eventually become the four-building Thomson Business Park complex. Over time, as business tenants seeking space for assembly, warehousing, and light manufacturing filled the building’s 3,100 square foot units, another building would go up. The final building, completed just a year before the senior Thomson’s death in 1995, brought the business park’s total space to more than 200,000 square feet.
The Business Park Today
Today, among its eclectic assortment 40 tenants, which include a church, a gymnastics school, an electric scooter builder, an internet pet supply company, a coffee roaster, a microscope maker, and more, Thomson Business Park has an astonishing 98% occupancy rate with three-year leases on spaces ranging from a single 3,100 square foot bay to as many as six bays side-by-side, all with 20-foot high ceilings.
Other Thomson Properties projects over the years have included a self-storage business, office buildings, an apartment complex, and various other developments in Mt. Lebanon and the airport area, as well as a modular housing plan in Zelienople. But at least for now, Cranberry’s Thomson Business Park remains the only flex-space property in the company’s portfolio.
“It’s been very nice,” Thomson reflected. “It’s fairly low-maintenance because once tenants get in, they seem to stay a long time; we don’t have a lot of turnover. Everyone’s pretty quiet; they don’t make too many demands on us, unlike the other things we have, such as self-storage that leases from month-to-month, or apartments which rent year-to-year. So it’s a whole different animal.”
Working with Government
The company’s experience working with Cranberry’s municipal government has also been favorable. “We’ve had an excellent relationship with Cranberry,” he acknowledged. “The permitting process is fine; they know our history and the way our buildings are built. The only change has been that back when we developed the buildings, some of them weren’t fully ADA accessible, so with the new rules, we’ve had to retrofit to meet those regulations. But there haven’t really been any struggles getting new tenants or dealing with new codes.
“Right now, we’re just managing what we’ve built and making improvements to keep up with today’s market. And we’re looking for future opportunities, whether they’re commercial or residential.”
Not Much Room at the Inn
Not much room at the inn. The tagline on Thomson Properties’ brochure is “We’ve got room.” But at its namesake business park in Cranberry, room is scarce. With an occupancy rate of 98% and low tenant turnover, Thomson Business Park has been home to 40 tenants representing a wide range of industries for more than 20 years. Park owner Alfred Thomson IV, shown here, has built on the legacy begun by his father, developer Alfred Thomson III.