Officials renew efforts to bring grocer to Clairton
By Michael DiVittorio
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 4:11 a.m.
Clairton officials and state Sen. James Brewster are actively seeking another grocery store for the city after Sierra Development LLC withdrew its Save-a-Lot project.
“My feeling is we want to do what's best for the community,” Brewster said at a recent U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works function. “We're willing to work with any group. We're going to get a grocery store in Clairton. We're going to work with the mayor and council and we're going to make it happen ... People in Clairton deserve to have a grocery store.”
Sierra Development submitted a letter to the city last month informing its leaders that it was not moving forward with developing a Save-A-Lot. The plan was to build it on the site of the former Blair Heights housing community along Maple Avenue, near Route 837 in Ward 2. Sierra purchased the property from Allegheny County Housing Authority.
Paramount Development Corp. was in negotiations with the city to bring in a Bottom Dollar along St. Clair Avenue in the heart of the city's business district. Bottom Dollar meetings developed through the assistance of Brewster, D-McKeesport.
“We were asked specifically to bring Bottom Dollar over,” Brewster said. “We did that, and then I left it in the hands of the mayor and council to decide which business plan made sense for the people of Clairton.”
“We went with Save-A-Lot because they were shovel ready,” Mayor Rich Lattanzi said. “We wanted a grocery store ... We made a decision and (Paramount) respected that. There were no hard feelings.”
Paramount's proposal included acquiring about 13 properties along St. Clair Avenue and some along Waddell Avenue. The store would have fronted St. Clair with a portion along Waddell.
Save-A-Lot plans began to fizzle after Howard Slaughter, a consultant for Sierra, informed officials and the public last month of a $460,000 shortfall.
The city applied for $750,000 in grants, and planned further project assistance through fixing roads and a possible tax abatement program, but was not going to fill the financial gap.
Slaughter said Sierra hired The Barry L. Stein Co. to list the property for sale.
Officials hope Brewster can bring Bottom Dollar back to the negotiating table.
“For one reason or another, the financials didn't work out, so we're going to proceed with Bottom Dollar and see if we can rekindle their interest,” Brewster said.
“My position was whatever deal we could work out is the one we want,” he added. “I'm there to help facilitate. That's what senators do. Our goal was to try and help that happen.”
Barry Rogers, development manager at Paramount, said on Tuesday the company is not currently working on any projects or initiatives in Clairton.
The mayor said he is confident the city will be able to reopen negotiations with Paramount, with Brewster's help.
“He's done it twice before and we've been dealing with them on and off for well over two years,” Lattanzi said. “He's been a real stand-up guy about making this happen.”
City manager Howard Bednar said one of his first questions to any developer trying to build a grocery store in Clairton will be, “Do you have the money to build this thing?”
“We'd want to see their financial package,” Bednar said. “We'd certainly like to see anybody come into town.”
Bednar said Paramount did not ask the city for any money in its previous proposal, and neither did Sierra when it first started negotiations.
Lattanzi said of the 13 properties identified in Paramount's previous proposal, three businesses at the time were not willing to sell. Two of them have since closed, leaving one operating business between the post office and PNC Bank. The mayor said eight of those parcels owe city taxes.
Janet Tissue of Uniontown said her husband, Harry Sisson, owns property at 433 and 431 St. Clair Ave. It housed the former Ja Cinta's Tea Pot and a small apartment before becoming vacant.
“We'd be willing to sell it, don't care what they want to put on it,” Tissue said. “We've been trying to sell it, but nobody wants to come up with the cash.”
Phone numbers posted on other businesses within the proposed site were disconnected. The owner of the sole operating business, a take-out and catering establishment, was unavailable at presstime.
Bednar said the city could acquire the properties through eminent domain or delinquent tax sale, should Paramount want to come back to their previous plan.
“Some of the buildings on St. Clair are delinquent and need to be torn down,” Bednar said. “Others are being used.”
Demolishing some of the dilapidated buildings in the city could entice more developers, he said.
“We've got to get big into demolition,” he said. “I'd rather see an empty lot than a decrepit old building.”
Lattanzi said demolition could help free up some space that the city does not have to offer.
“We don't have any property right now that's shovel ready,” the mayor said.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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