Whole Foods expansion project in East Liberty delayed for design tweaks, approvals

Shoppers hoping for a little more elbow room with the proposed expansion of the Whole Foods Market in East Liberty are going to have to wait.

The 14,434-square-foot expansion, which was expected to start in April, is being delayed until next March.

Steve Mosites, president of the Mosites Co., the developer, said Wednesday the project was pushed back a year to allow for tweaks in the design and to get the reviews and approvals needed by Whole Foods before work could start.

The decision related to “working out bugs in the design and getting everybody on the same page and just working through all the issues that come about when you’re coordinating a complex renovation and expansion,” he said.

City planning commission members approved the expansion of the store, which will include a ground level addition to the front of the store and a second floor cafe, in February but delayed action on an accompanying 82-space parking deck because of concerns about the design.

The commission approved a revised design for the parking in late March that replaced concrete walls with metal and mesh, creating an appearance more in keeping with the existing deck at the adjacent Eastside II development.

Mr. Mosites said the delay in getting the parking approval did not trigger the decision to postpone the construction nearly a year. He said that had more to do with flushing out the design and in coordinating construction with Whole Foods.

“It’s a very integrated process with many people needing to weigh in and sign off on things,” he said.

Katie Malloy, Whole Foods spokeswoman, said the grocer “is proceeding forward on the project” but referred questions about the schedule, construction and process to Mosites.

City Councilman Dan Gilman, whose district includes the Whole Foods store, said he doesn’t view the delay as a setback. He said Mosites has always said the project could start this year or next, depending on what worked best for the grocer.

Whole Foods doesn’t want the construction to impact the Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping season, one of its busiest times of the year. As a result, Mosites has a “small construction window” for the project, Mr. Gilman said. He added he’s interested in getting the “right development” for the community even if it means waiting a year.

“I think the community appreciates that Mosites took the time to listen and respond to any concerns,” he said.

Construction is expected to take six months, meaning the project should be completed in September 2015.

Lenore Williams, chairwoman of the Baum Centre Initiative who had complained about the initial design of the parking deck, said she is much happier with the revisions since they will make the structure look more like that at Eastside II.

“To do the right thing, it was going to take more time for them. So the delay is understandable,” she said.

The new deck will increase the number of spaces devoted to store parking from 104 to 156, providing some relief for shoppers who struggle to find parking spots at peak times.

Construction won’t be painless, though. While the deck is being built, Mosites may have to move parking off site. Whole Foods has been talking to AAA about securing 25 spaces on weekdays and 50 on weekends in a lot on Centre Avenue across from the grocery.

Overall, the expansion would move the 32,500-square-foot East Liberty store closer to the size of its sister markets throughout the country. Mr. Mosites has said the standard Whole Foods now runs about 40,000 square feet.

Since the East Liberty store opened in 2002, Whole Foods added a location in the Wexford Plaza shopping center in McCandless and has plans for another in the South Hills.

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

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