Hill District Shop 'n Save should be open by fall

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The Hill District's long drought without a grocery may be a mere season from ending.

Cheryl Hall-Russell, president and CEO of the Hill House Association, said Thursday construction of the 30,000-square-foot Shop 'n Save should be substantially complete and ready to turn over to store operator Jeff Ross by the end of August.

Mr. Ross said he's shooting for a soft opening of the long-delayed store the third week of September, followed by a grand opening the first week of October.

Hill House, which is overseeing the project, and local civic and political leaders will celebrate the progress of the construction with a "topping-off" ceremony Tuesday in which the final steel beam will be installed for the complex at the site on Centre Avenue at Heldman Street.

After a lengthy delay, caused in part by difficulty in closing a gap in the financing, construction of the store and an accompanying plaza started late last fall.

Since then, Massaro Corp., the contractor, has been able to complete nearly all of the building's exterior shell heading into the summer.

"We're very, very pleased with the work they're doing and how efficiently they're completing it," Ms. Hall-Russell said. "It's stunning. It's beautiful to look at.

"But what it represents is most important, and that is fresh food and services for this community," she said.

The Hill District has been without a grocery for more than 30 years, forcing residents to travel elsewhere to buy food and other necessities.

The Shop 'n Save will be the only full-service grocery within 2.7 miles of the Hill when it is completed.

Officials believe the lack of a grocery has been a hindrance to growth and economic development in the neighborhood and has become a community health issue.

Mr. Ross said he hopes to start hiring next month. He expects to employ more than 100 people at the store, which is being funded in part by $1 million from the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team and $1 million from the city Urban Redevelopment Authority.

In addition to the store itself, there will be spaces in a plaza for four other retailers. Ms. Hall-Russell said the Hill House has signed letters of intent with the retailers but still is negotiating final leases.

She would not name the tenants.

"It's going to be a nice variety of much-needed services in this area," she said.

Mr. Ross said there will be a kiosk for the Duquesne University pharmacy inside the store. Shoppers also will have access to a bank from the grocery, he said.

At one time, the Hill House had hoped to open the store by Thanksgiving of 2011 but never came close to meeting that deadline.

A $3.86-million gap in the financing for the $11.5 million grocery at one point threatened to derail the project.

The Hill House and its economic development corporation were able to bridge that gulf by securing commitments from a variety of sources, including $1.9 million in New Markets Tax Credits; a $400,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments; a $788,673 federal grant; and a $115,000 grant and a $250,000 loan from the Hill District fund set up to distribute $3 million in gambling revenues provided by Rivers Casino on the North Shore.

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


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