Piatts reflect on Southpointe's 25-year rise to prominence

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Lucas Piatt flashed back to his adolescence, to the wooded hillside he roamed, unaware of what the property and hundreds of acres surrounding it would become – and his family’s ultimate role in that.

“I had a long rifle and was shooting deer, probably illegally,” Piatt recalled Wednesday afternoon, eliciting laughter throughout the ballroom of the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh/Southpointe.

He stood at the podium, not far from where he did that shooting a quarter-century ago, and considered the transformation of that virgin land into the massive and massively successful Southpointe. Piatt paused, and with a palpable sense of awe, proclaimed: “What a change. What a vision that became reality.”

Southpointe, a mixed-use park where about 15,000 work and 1,000 reside, turned 25 this year, a milestone that was celebrated Wednesday inside the inn. Piatt, president and chief operating officer of Millcraft Investments, engaged a luncheon crowd of about 200 with his perspectives on the park and his accompanying wit and easy demeanor.

But as humorous as he was, Lucas was a mere warmup act for the star. The focal point of this silver anniversary fest was the silver-haired man he introduced: Jack Piatt, his dad.

Jack, the founder and chairman of Millcraft, was a major force in the park’s development. Now 90, he regaled the audience with his memories, on a day the Southpointe CEO Association presented with the inaugural Spirit of Southpointe award.

Like how, in the late 1980s, he was motoring along Interstate 79 with Delvin Miller, the horse racing legend, when Miller said, “we should build a golf course here.” They were passing the tract that would become Southpointe.

Like how Jack was thinking of replicating a golf course community similar to one he had in Florida. Like how he pushed the idea on then-Washington County Commissioner Frank Mascara, who endorsed the project and likewise pressed on, despite widespread opposition. The proposal was often ridiculed as “Frank’s Folly.”

Like how this grew into a private-public enterprise that, fortuitously, worked a decade after the region’s industry had tanked and Washington County’s economy was suffering.

“We had a vision, which included a lot of green, and adopted the philosophy of ‘work, live and play,’” said Jack, whose company developed much of the 589-acre Southpointe I, which has since been complemented by the rise of the 217-acre Southpointe II.

Jack certainly was in a playful mood Wednesday, responding to his son’s serious questions with a mix of sincerity and a healthy measure of wit. Asked about Millcraft’s development strategies, Jack said: “We’re as crazy as hell. You have to think outside the box. Actually, there is no box.”

Now that Southpointe has been virtually built out, Lucas asked innocently, “Where next?”

“I’ll probably go to hell if I don’t mend my ways,” his father retorted. Then, abandoning his ornery side for a moment, Jack said, “Across the street,” referring to the Cool Valley project that is finally gaining momentum. “We’re going to see a lot of things happen in Washington County, especially in energy.”

Reflections on 90 years? “You have to work hard and love what you’re doing,” the father said. Then asked what drives him, the ornery side emerged again. “Going to work every day, drinking good wine and beautiful women.”

An audience member asked, facetiously: “When are you going to buy the Pirates?”

“I don’t need that much depreciation,” Jack retorted.

In the midst of the Q-and-A with his son, the father said sincerely: “Isn’t Southpointe a beautiful place? I love Southpointe and I love Washington County. I’d love to do more for Washington County.”

The ballroom consensus was he already has.