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Food chain needs funds for its store in Clairton

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 4:07 a.m.

A developer of a proposed Save-A-Lot grocery store in Clairton is requesting the city fill in a $460,000 financial gap in the project.

Howard Slaughter, a consultant for Sierra Development, told residents and city officials about the shortfall earlier this week.

“We have certain dollars in place. We have to leverage those dollars,” Slaughter said at Tuesday's council meeting. “We're about ($460,000-$500,000) away from where we need to go on this development. That's pretty much where we are, unless we can fill the gap, Sierra will not be able to move forward because that will be difficult to do.”

The Save-A-Lot is projected to be located on the former Blair Heights housing development along Maple Avenue, not far from Route 837 and the U.S. Steel Clairton coke plant.

Sierra Development, through its Cityplace Center LLC subsidiary, bought the 6.03-acre land for $100,000 from the Allegheny County Housing Authority in 2011.

The plan is to develop a 15,500-square-foot grocery with 65 parking spaces.

City officials have yet to say if they would grant Sierra's request.

“This is probably the biggest project that we've worked on as council members in the city of Clairton, trying to make something happen for our city,” Councilman Richard Ford said.

“I do see that it's very possible (to have a grocery store),” Mayor Rich Lattanzi said.

Resident Joe Julian said he's opposed to the city giving any money to Sierra, noting that when he started his business, “we didn't get a dime from this city.”

“We should not have to pay for a grocery store,” Julian said. “I've been eating without a grocery store for the last 10 years, and I don't think we should pay a dime of our tax money for any business to come here.”

Council voted to approve development and site control agreements between the city and Sierra Development LLC in September.

The agreements were needed to be in place prior to submitting applications for Allegheny County Community Development Block Grant and state Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund grant requests.

The city is seeking $490,000 in CDBG funds and $250,000 in CTIF monies on behalf of Sierra.

Slaughter lauded city officials for their efforts in trying to bring a grocery store to Clairton.

Councilman John Lattanzi said he hasn't seen enough from Sierra to have the city assist the project any further.

“I'm against it unless they can show me they got enough money to finance this project,” Lattanzi said. “Show me the money. That's my story. I've been telling them I wanted to see financial reports, and they never provided.”

Lattanzi also said he spoke with city solicitor J. Deron Gabriel, who informed officials the money requested cannot be a direct loan to an individual or company.

Slaughter said Sierra's financial commitment to the store, including cash equity, total roughly $2.5 million.

“That is the maximum that the organization can put into a grocery store,” Slaughter said.

Sierra' applying for a $250,000 loan through the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Duquesne. Sierra also committed $471,000 toward purchasing equipment, and seeks a $1 million loan through First Commonwealth Bank.

Slaughter said Sierra received a commitment for $625,000 in an operational grant, but the store would have to open by February 2014 to get those funds.

Slaughter declined to say where that money is coming from.

Ford said he expects the city to receive a letter from Sierra by Friday showing all the financial commitments the company received.

“We need $460,000 to fill all the gaps for the money we feel we need to make it happen,” Ford said. “I pray that the city will commit to it because it is for our city. If the county don't see we have our end of the commitment, they're not going to commit to us.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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