Hill District is maybe a year away from getting new grocery store, says councilman | TribLIVE.com

Hill District is maybe a year away from getting new grocery store, says councilman

Paul Guggenheimer

It could take as a long as a year for the Hill District to have a grocery store again.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District, said he is reaching out to as many potential new store operators as possible but cited obstacles that stand in the way of the Hill getting a new full-service grocery store.

“I would say at minimum it’ll take six months before you would have a new operator in there, or realistically, it could take as long as a year,” Lavelle told the Trib.

The Shop ‘n Save grocery store in the Hill’s Centre Heldman Plaza officially closed March 19, less than six years after its October 2013 opening. Before the store opened, the largely low-income neighborhood endured over 30 years without a full-service grocery store.

The Hill House Association and Economic Development Corp. built the $11.5 million grocery and adjoining retail space with nearly $4 million in public subsidies. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh had given a $1 million dollar grant for the project, and there were another $2.8 million in federal grants and tax credits.

Back in February, when it was announced that the Shop ‘n Save would close, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he wasn’t surprised. The store was losing money, Peduto said. He hinted at that time that the city had been talking to other grocery companies about taking over that space.

Lavelle said money is at the root of the obstacles to landing a new store.

“There are a number of back bills that have not been paid that would need to be cleared up,” said Lavelle. “There is also the need to mothball the store until such time that a new operator could come in, and that’s an expense that the Hill House can’t cover so we would need to figure out where those resources would come from as well.”

Also in question is whether the Hill District is capable of sustaining a supermarket, especially when the most recent operator lost money. Lavelle pointed to the Penguins’ redevelopment of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site, which include a substantial residential component, and new housing in other parts of the neighborhood as a key reason why a new grocery store would be successful.

“You’re going to have a minimum of 250 units of housing, and potentially 1,200 units, begin development this year on the Lower Hill,” Lavelle said. “You have potentially new housing being developed another two blocks away from the site. And we’re getting ready to begin working on the redevelopment of Centre Avenue as well. So, you’re going to have more critical mass coming into the area within the next year.”

Lavelle said that while a new supermarket could be brought in without being subsidized, if subsidies become necessary, it would be money well spent.

“There are health benefits to the existing community,” Lavelle said. “Residents are obviously concerned, especially given that the Hill District has a high senior citizen population. Many of them will now have to expend a lot of resources on travelling outside of the community to get to another store.”

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

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