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Developer still unsure of next step for Clairton grocery store property

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 4:47 a.m.
Clairton Councilman Richard Ford overlooks the Sierra Development property in his Ward that was expected to be used for a grocery store. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

A developer of a proposed Save-A-Lot store in Clairton has not decided what to do with the property since backing out of the project last week.

Sierra Development LLC submitted a letter to the city, signed by Sierra's managing principal Jeff Smith and principal Gil Berry, stating it “introspectively and thoroughly vacillated over our decision before concluding that we should not move forward with the grocery store.”

Howard Slaughter, a consultant for Sierra Development, spoke with company officials on Tuesday.

“Sierra is not in any discussions with another grocery store at this point and is presently undecided as to future options for this parcel,” Slaughter said. “However, the property is currently listed for sale, but Sierra is keeping its options open.”

The proposed Save-A-Lot was to be on the site of the former Blair Heights housing development along Maple Avenue, near Route 837 and U.S. Steel's Clairton plant. It's in Ward 2, which is Councilman Richard Ford's ward.

“I'm really upset about it,” Ford said. “I wish (Sierra) would have wanted to continue on. We did not do all that we could have done to bring in a grocery store. We could have been more cooperative with the developer. The thing is we were supposed to bring in a grocery store for our citizens.”

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 was to develop a 15,500-square-foot grocery store with 65 parking spaces.

Slaughter said Sierra hired The Barry L. Stein Co. to list the property for sale.

Company owner Barry Stein said his real estate agency was hired by Sierra within the last 10 days. A market study is being done, and there is no confirmed price for the lot, Stein said. The property is expected to be posted on the company's website by the end of the week.

“If Sierra has it up for sale anybody can buy it and do whatever they want to do,” Ford said.

Sierra's letter also highlights some financial commitments the company sought for the project, including $80,000 for geotechnical work, a $1 million loan through First Commonwealth Bank, $471,000 for new equipment, a $250,000 loan from the Redevelopment Authority of Duquesne and a $625,000 operational grant.

The operational grant had a provision that Sierra open the grocery store by February 2014.

Clairton officials prepared a letter for residents in response to Sierra's decision. A copy of that letter — which highlights some of its financial contributions including $740,000 in Allegheny County Community Development Block Grant and state Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund monies — is available at the finance office.

Mayor Rich Lattanzi said Friday evening the city's contribution would have been about $1.5 million with the grants, street improvements and a $600,000 tax abatement package. “We felt we couldn't go any further than that,” he said.

Ford disagrees. “We had a great opportunity here, and this council really didn't work as much as they made it sound like they worked. The (grant) money was being directed through the city. That's not Clairton's money and that cannot be counted as Clairton contributing to that (project) ... There were ways we could have helped ourselves. It's a sad scenario. We got to go further.”

Residents at several council meetings last year urged councilors to find a way to get a grocery store into the city.

Slaughter told residents and city officials on Jan. 8 of this year there was about a $460,000 shortfall on the project. Residents and business owners at that meeting urged council not to give Sierra that money.

Lattanzi said the city was not going to fill the financial gap for the company.

The city was in negotiations last year with Paramount Development Corp. for a Bottom Dollar grocery store along St. Clair Avenue. Paramount would have had to acquire some properties and possibly a few lots along Waddell Avenue to build the store.

The city went with Sierra's proposal and stopped negotiations with Paramount because Sierra had already acquired its property.

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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