URA clears way for Hill District grocery store
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With all of the financing finally in place, a long-delayed grocery in the Hill District moved a big step closer to construction Thursday.
The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority board voted 4-0 with one abstention to approve a revised timetable and other details for the Shop 'n Save, clearing the way for construction to begin at the end of the month.
Board members took the steps a short time after the Hill House Association announced at a press conference that it had closed a $3.86 million gap in the financing that had threatened to derail the $11.5 million project.
"I think we've dotted all the I's and crossed the T's and we're ready to move forward," Cheryl Hall-Russell, the association's president and CEO, told the board.
Site work on the 2.4-acre parcel at Centre Avenue and Heldman Street is nearing completion. The Hill House hopes to have the 30,000-square-foot store completed by the end of next year. It will be the first grocery in the Hill in more than 30 years.
"What happens to a dream deferred?" URA board chairman Yarone Zober asked. "I don't know. But I don't have to think about it. This is a dream come true."
The Hill House and its economic development corporation closed the gap by securing commitments from a host of sources, including $1.9 million in New Markets Tax Credits; a $400,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments; a $788,673 federal grant; a $300,000 grant from McAuley Ministries; and a $115,000 grant and a $250,000 loan from a Hill District fund set up to distribute $3 million in gambling revenues provided by Rivers Casino.
Those new sources supplement earlier commitments for the store, including $1 million from the URA and $1 million from the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a community benefits agreement with the Hill. Nearly all of the funding for the grocery is coming from public or foundation sources, although store operator Jeff Ross is contributing $1 million in equipment and inventory.
URA board member Jim Ferlo, a Democratic state senator from Highland Park, abstained in the vote. He said he had concerns about whether the store would be successful and did not support the level of public subsidies involved.
"I don't think the project's ready for prime time," he said.
He said the money would be better spent developing more housing in the Hill. That would create the critical mass necessary to help a grocery and other retailers be successful.
"I don't think the business is there in the community," he said. "I'm not willing to vote on the politics of it, the dream of it, or the moral imperative of it."
But Mr. Zober and URA board member R. Daniel Lavelle, a city councilman, said the city has been investing in housing in the Hill, with more than 350 units in planning or development stages. They said they also expect Downtown residents to shop at the Hill grocery.
"I think a grocery store like this will end up serving a lot of people," Mr. Zober said.
First Published November 9, 2012 12:00 am