Saks redevelopment site, PPG Place food court among places considered
September 17, 2013 4:00 AM
Jane Bircher of Highland Park checks out her groceries at a self-checkout at the Giant Eagle at the Waterworks Mall.
By Mark Belko Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After being courted for years, Giant Eagle finally might say yes to Downtown Pittsburgh.
Representatives for the grocery have talked to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials and others about opening a store in the Golden Triangle and have been scouting potential locations.
"There have been discussions, yes. They have a couple of different spots where they're looking," county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Monday. "Yes, they're interested in Downtown."
Mr. Fitzgerald said that among the sites under consideration are the proposed Saks redevelopment on Smithfield Street and the PPG Place food court space in Market Square. But he added there are other potential locations in the mix as well.
"I know they're looking at everything Downtown," said Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and chairman of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority board.
The disclosure comes less than a week after developer Ralph Falbo announced plans to open a grocery in spring 2014 in the Thompson Building at 435 Market St. in Market Square.
Local officials have been trying for years to interest Giant Eagle, the region's dominant grocery chain, in opening a store in or near Downtown, particularly with the increase in the residential population in recent years. They tried without success to convince Giant Eagle to build a grocery in the Hill District, where a Shop 'n Save will open in mid-October.
"Giant Eagle would be a great addition to Downtown's vibrant retail market. With a growing residential base, we think there's a definite need for a full-service grocery store and a market for the same. We look forward to continuing to work with Giant Eagle on finding a home Downtown," Mr. Zober said.
Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said his organization started working with Giant Eagle about six months ago on a market study to determine the viability of a store in the Golden Triangle.
While Mr. Waldrup would not release the results of the study, he said it has "definitely shown enough to keep their interest."
"They are doing their due diligence now. They are talking to a number of property owners about locations that would best meet their needs," he said.
Downtown residents, in a survey done earlier this year by the PDP, listed a grocery as their chief retail priority. Their top preference was Giant Eagle, followed by Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.
In a statement, Giant Eagle said, "We continually evaluate opportunities for growth across all of our markets. Unique formats such as our Express store concept allow us to deliver a wide selection of grocery offerings and ready to eat meal solutions in a more intimate setting.
"While there are currently no confirmed plans for a new Downtown Pittsburgh location, we continue to be intrigued by the city's population growth and the countless number of commercial development projects underway."
The grocer opened a second Express location last year in Indiana, Pa., following its debut in Harmar in 2007. The 14,000-square-foot Indiana store carries limited groceries, seafood, fresh produce, prepared foods like rotisserie chicken and pot pies, a full-service deli, a salad bar, an in-store bakery, and 150 varieties of domestic and imported beers. It also features a cafe and a sub shop.
Later this year, Giant Eagle will open its first Market District Express concept store in Peters. It will be an extension of its Market District supermarket where customers will be able to "see, smell and taste the best of the Market District experience in a more intimate store setting."
Local officials did not know what type of store Giant Eagle is considering for Downtown. But Mr. Waldrup said he believes the grocer could have one up and running within a year or two. Mr. Zober saw Giant Eagle's interest as a vindication of the administration's strategy to promote residential Downtown.
"This tells you that's working," Mr. Zober said.
The redevelopment at the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store site would feature a parking garage and 25,000 square feet of retail space, more than enough for a Giant Eagle Express. Highwoods Properties, the owner of PPG Place, also has been toying with the idea of putting a grocery in the complex's lower level food court.
Mr. Zober would not rule out possible public aid for a Giant Eagle grocery Downtown. He said the Hill District Shop 'n Save, the Giant Eagle Market District in Shadyside and the Target in East Liberty all benefited from public financing.
"As long as the public support is needed and appropriately sized, that is what we do at the URA to help make deals happen that otherwise wouldn't," he said.
A Giant Eagle Downtown could create competition for Mr. Falbo's upscale grocery -- which will offer fresh meat, seafood, and produce, wine and household staples -- and the Hill Shop 'n Save. But John Valentine, executive director of the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp., didn't see that as a bad thing.
"The more the better. It gives Downtown residents an option. They can make a choice of what they want to do," he said.