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Wal-Mart plans store at East Hills mall

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By Ron Daparma
Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007

Mega-retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will bring a long-sought Wal-Mart Supercenter to the site of the former East Hills Shopping Center.

In addition, it plans to kick in hundreds of thousands of dollars to help businesses and spur development and other improvements in surrounding neighborhoods.

The company has scheduled a news conference on Monday to announce plans for the store and the beginning of a nationwide "Jobs and Opportunity Zone" program that will include funding grants to aid the communities of Penn Hills, Wilkinsburg and the East Hills section of Pittsburgh, whose borders include portions of the East Hills complex.

"Wal-Mart's presence will help stabilize the former East Hills Shopping Center and return it to viable economic use," said Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who will join Gov. Ed Rendell and Wal-Mart representatives at the event.

Also attending with be Bishop Donald O. Clay Jr., senior pastor of Petra International Ministries, an independent church that has been trying to redevelop the East Hills center through Operation Nehemiah Inc., its nonprofit social services arm, for more than eight years.

A statement issued Friday in advance of the event notes the new jobs and opportunities zone "will encompass the new Wal-Mart Supercenter and surrounding local businesses and suppliers."

"Wal-Mart will work with these companies to generate economic opportunity in the community," the statement said.

"Wal-Mart also will partner will local chambers of commerce, business groups, minority chambers of commerce, and minority and women-owned businesses within these zones to direct hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to these communities."

Kera Walter, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, declined to give further detail. But she said Wal-Mart Supercenters usually are 90,000 square feet or more and can employ between 300 and 500 people.

Wal-Mart had been mentioned as a possible tenant for the shopping complex as early as 1999.

However, the company had been hesitant to commit to the site because of concern for existing conditions and lack of improvements in the surrounding neighborhoods.

But in April, Wal-Mart Stores CEO Lee Scott announced plans for the jobs and opportunity zone initiative and disclosed that over the next two years the company would build more than 50 stores in neighborhoods with various problems, such as high crime or unemployment rates, and in vacant buildings or malls in need of revitalization.

"Wal-Mart has never been afraid to invest in communities that are overlooked by other retailers," Lee said in remarks posted on the company's Internet site.

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