By Bob Batz Jr. / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To many South Hills residents, Cool Springs is a name that evokes warm memories of playing miniature golf and hitting golf balls at the driving range going back to when the place opened in 1977.

But these days there’s a lot more going on at this still-being-developed hilltop in Bethel Park where it borders Whitehall at Highland and Baptist roads.

What was once a golf center is now Cool Springs Sports Complex.

It still has mini golf — still billed as the longest course east of the Mississippi River — and a driving range, but that’s all been rebuilt and includes a new short-game putting area and other updates. On a recent sunny Sunday, a thousand golfers whacked balls into the glowing green turf from the heated driving-range bays, analyzing their shots on Protracer screens and sipping beers and noshing on munchies from the Fairway Grille. Others played golf courses around the country on two virtual screens in the clubhouse.

At the same time, hundreds of others were playing and practicing soccer and other sports on Western Pennsylvania’s only FIFA-sized indoor artificial turf field, part of an airplane hangar-like Allegheny Health Network Sports Complex that also includes two hardwood-floored courts for basketball, volleyball and futsal. That brand-new, 172,000-square-feet building also houses a fitness club, locker rooms and a “performance cafe,” among other amenities ranging from conference rooms to a chandeliered banquet space and adjacent kitchen.

On Monday, AHN will hold a media day to celebrate the opening of the complex’s second-floor space for providing orthopedic care, diagnostics and athletic training services. Coming later this year are indoor batting cages and pitching mounds downstairs for baseball practice, training and rehabilitation of players, including Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom AHN is the official medical provider.

That’s the case with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team, which has made this its practice home. So have many other organizations and schools. In February, regional youth soccer standouts showed their stuff to college coaches from around the country in the first Steel City College Showcase. And more athletes and events are being drawn to what’s now a 58-acre “campus,” as Brian Shanahan calls it.

This was all part of Mr. Shanahan’s vision when his Penn Cove Group Capital bought the down-and-out golf center in fall 2013.

“We wanted to make this the Kennywood of sports,” he said recently as he led a reporter and photographer on a tour of the new fields and courts and other spaces of the indoor complex, which opened in November as part of the second phase of Cool Springs redevelopment.

Mr. Shanahan is the founder and chairman of CardConnect, which provides electronic payment technology and processing services. As a boy growing up in nearby Upper St. Clair, he used to play golf and play in the old batting cages on long summer days. But it wasn’t nostalgia that got him and his partner, Richard Garman, to pay $1.82 million to get the original 40-acre golf center out of foreclosure. They bought an adjacent 15 acres for $350,000 from Bethel Park and embarked on spending millions more — a total of about $19 million so far -— to expand and improve it.

And they’re still not done. In the works on the property is a 150-room assisted-living facility, two dozen carriage homes and, along Baptist Road, where there’s a new entrance to the property, a shopping plaza anchored by a Steel Cactus Mexican restaurant and Sport Clips haircut salon. It will all complement the sports complex, where Mr. Shanahan plans to hold other events, from comedy acts to car and cat shows.

Penn Cove recently purchased 34 acres on the other side of Hamilton Road, most of it the former Mount Providence home of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God. Mr. Shanahan wants to start developing that property this spring -— probably into more carriage and town homes -— but said he will keep the St. Francis High School and chapel buildings and many large trees. He’s talking about adding a dek hockey surface, two ponds and a walking trail around the property to connect it to Cool Springs.

Even with all this going on, Mr. Shanahan is also working to find property and partners to open a similar indoor sports facility, perhaps called Cool Springs North, in the northern suburbs. The Penguins partnered with UPMC to open the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex last year in Cranberry. Mr. Shanahan acknowledges the similarity between Cool Springs partnering with AHN — “they’re hockey, we’re multi-sport” — but he believes the region still has a need for more modern sports facilities like this.

He said that while he expects to make money on this venture, he also feels good about promoting sports. “You’re not on the couch playing video games.”

In addition to large-scale rentals and fitness club memberships and classes, Cool Springs offers day passes to its fields and courts for $10 or to the fields and courts and the fitness center for $15.

Details: playcoolsprings.com.

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.