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December 7, 2012

Tech park evolves: Conemaugh takes over sprawling facility

JOHNSTOWN — A new sign with a new name at the former Sani-Dairy property reflects the evolution of what was once envisioned as a springboard for local economic recovery.

The much-heralded Johns­town Regional Technology Park has been renamed Conemaugh Medical Park.

Much of the 90,000-square-foot facility is now occupied by offices and clinics of the Conemaugh Physicians Group and Memorial Medical Center.

Five primary care doctors are joining the Conemaugh cardiology program to fill a majority of the sprawling three-story building, Conemaugh Health System announced.

The medical businesses and their 62 employees join Northrop-Grumman defense contractors and the Department of Labor’s Johnstown Black Lung district office.

When it opened in October 2008, the tech park was hailed as a linchpin to make Johnstown the “heart and soul of technology for all of western Pennsylvania.”

The state-of-the-art, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified Green building was developed as the hub for new medical and technology business development.

Conemaugh’s Memorial Medical Center developed the facility, with former board chairman Robert Gleason and former hospital vice presidents Tom Kurtz and Michael Lauf taking leadership.

Gleason was so confident of the project’s success, he was talking about Phase 2 before construction was complete.

“That building is for new new business,” Gleason said shortly after the July 3, 2007, groundbreaking.

“As soon as the building begins to rise, we’ll see more interest. That building is going to be filled. I want to start looking at the next building.”

The February 2010 death of U.S. Rep. John Murtha largely took Johnstown off the defense industry’s expansion map, and the lengthy recession limited other business interest, Gleason said Friday.

“I am disappointed,” Gleason said. “I thought it would attract new business, but I think the hospital – the way they reacted and decided to use the space – is a good thing for the people who live in Cambria County.”

Besides attracting new business, the $20 million project cleaned up a former industrial brownfield site near the city’s core, enhancing the downtown business district, Kurtz said on Friday.

The makeover is credited with leading to several other projects in the Kernville neighborhood.

“That part of the vision was realized,” Kurtz said, though adding he also is disappointed with the anemic growth.

Kurtz, who now is chief executive officer at Windber Research Institute, commended his former employer for adding programs in the Kernville facility instead of allowing space to remain vacant.

And Conemaugh has spent millions more on renovations to create high-caliber medical offices, said Ron Repak, executive director of the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority.

The authority remains part owner of the Conemaugh Medical Park through Greater Johnstown Tech Park LLC, a joint subsidiary with Conemaugh, Repak said.

It could be said that Conemaugh Medical Park has come full circle and back to the original tech park proposal.

In spring of 2006, Gleason and Kurtz came to Richland Township supervisors with a plan for a business park to include three Conemaugh-related facilities, with room to attract additional businesses. The health system’s former for-profit software business, InforMedx, would move to an Elton Road location, along with new space for Conemaugh School of Nursing and John P. Murtha Neuroscience and Pain Institute.

But when supervisors balked at rezoning the 80-acre parcel owned by William Kuchera, hospital leaders found encouragement from city and redevelopment authority officials. Tax incentives and state funding were available under Johns­town’s distressed status, Repak recalled.

By the time ground was broken, Northrop Grumman and MTS Technologies had stepped up to become tenants, and the Labor Department was already in negotiations.

Meanwhile, the neuroscience institute has expanded into more of its original location at 1450 Scalp Ave.

InforMedx was absorbed into Conemaugh’s financial operations in Westwood Plaza, and the nursing school continues to thrive by taking advantage of its location on Memorial’s main Franklin Street Campus to add more clinical training.

A hospital spokeswoman said current Conemaugh executives were not available for an interview.

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