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Wal-Mart to break ground in Penn Hills in October

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Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008

Groundbreaking for a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the former East Hills Shopping Center in Penn Hills is scheduled for October, according to the nonprofit group that is developing the site.

"We believe this project will be a great economic catalyst for the community, both in terms of revitalizing what has long been a blighted area, and creating jobs and career opportunities for residents," said Connie Balthrop, executive director of Operation Nehemiah.

Operation Nehemiah is handling the development project for Petra Ministries, which owns the 70-acre site along Robinson Boulevard near the intersection of Frankstown Road in East Hills. Petra has its headquarters at the site in a former Zayre's department store building.

The Wal-Mart, which will be on 44 acres, eventually will be joined by a Lowe's home improvement center to serve as anchors for a shopping plaza that will be called The Summit, Balthrop said.

The East Hills Wal-Mart is one of two Supercenters in the works for Penn Hills.

An estimated 300 to 400 jobs will be created when the 148,000-square-foot Wal-Mart opens in late 2009 or early 2010, according to Keith Morris, a spokesman for the company.

Several hundred more jobs will be created once the Lowe's and the other retail shops and restaurants open, Balthrop said.

The East Hills Wal-Mart is part of an initiative announced last year by the company to create so-called Jobs and Opportunity Zones to spur economic development in urban areas. East Hills is one of nine such projects the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has begun around the country.

Wal-Mart has promised to spend thousands of dollars to help businesses, chambers of commerce and other groups by sponsoring seminars with information on how to boost business and deal with Wal-Mart itself.

"The idea that Wal-Mart is trying to be a good corporate citizen, by working with the smaller businesses in the area to help them continue to be successful, fits well with the values of our ministry," Balthrop said.

Most of the area being developed is in Penn Hills. Twenty-four percent is in Wilkinsburg, and 1 percent, in Pittsburgh, according to Chris Blackwell, principal planner for Penn Hills.

The three municipalities are working on an agreement for sharing taxes from the project and splitting the responsibility for providing public safety and other services, Blackwell said.

"There is a great deal of anticipation for this project, not only in terms of the tax revenue it will generate, but the much-needed shot in the arm to the neighborhood it should provide," he said.

Wal-Mart announced plans to build a 200,000-square-foot Supercenter off Saltsburg Road near the Plum border in August 2005. That project, still awaiting approval of a highway occupancy permit from the state Department of Transportation, is opposed by some residents who fear it will create traffic problems.

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