Plan is floated for grocery at Pittsburgh's Market Square

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In 2005, developer Ralph Falbo toyed with the idea of putting an upscale grocery in the old G.C. Murphy's store at the edge of Market Square.

That proposal never panned out. But nearly eight years later, he may be closer to seeing his vision become reality.

Mr. Falbo is talking to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation about opening a grocery in the Thompson Building at 435 Market St. in Market Square.

The grocery would be the first Downtown since Rosebud Fine Food Market and Deli on Seventh Street, near the Encore apartment complex, closed in March 2010. It would offer fresh meat, fish and produce as well as prepared foods and household staples. There are also plans for wine and coffee bars.

Mr. Falbo declined to discuss the grocery in any detail Tuesday, saying it was "premature" and that not all issues had been resolved. "We're thinking about it," he said.

PG graphic: Location of proposed grocery store
(Click image for larger version)

Arthur Ziegler, president of the history and landmarks foundation, said he has had "general talks" with Mr. Falbo about the grocery.

"We had a conversation or two. We are not in any way there yet. We are talking about it," he said.

Mr. Ziegler added that he also has been talking to three to four other possible tenants about the foundation-owned building, which at one time housed the Ciao Baby restaurant. It had been hoping to land a restaurant, bar or cafe to fill the space.

Mr. Falbo reportedly is partnering with the owners of Vallozzi's restaurant in Market Square and Hempfield. Neither Ernie nor Julian Vallozzi, the restaurant co-owners, could be reached for comment.

Also involved in the discussions has been the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp., which earlier this month filed an application with Allegheny County for a $250,000 Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund grant in support of the grocery.

John Valentine, the CDC's executive director, declined comment.

Mr. Falbo's proposal comes at a time of heightened demand for a grocery in the Golden Triangle.

In a recent survey by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Downtown residents listed a grocery as their top retail priority. Among their preferences were Giant Eagle, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.

"It's certainly something we would like to see Downtown. We want to make sure it's the right project for the individual grocer, that it's in the right place. But we do believe it's the right time," said Jeremy Waldrup, the partnership's CEO and president.

Some believe that Rosebud failed not because of a lack of demand but because of its location, which was at the northern edge of Downtown, not in a central spot.

Mr. Falbo isn't the only one considering a grocery Downtown. Highwoods Properties, the owner of PPG Place, has been thinking about replacing that complex's food court with a grocery. Herky Pollock, the CBRE executive vice president who is broker for the space, said recently that Highwoods is determining the feasibility of such a move while at the same time talking to potential suitors. He had no comment Tuesday.

A market also has been among the uses under consideration for an empty 15,000-square-foot space on Fifth Avenue in Piatt Place, the former Lazarus-Macy's department store. Lucas Piatt, Millcraft's president and chief operating officer, could not be reached for comment.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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