Hill grocery delayed again

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After two groundbreakings, a year of delays, multiple changes in the contract management team, the dismissal of Executive Director Jules Matthews and her husband, Jason Matthews, the Hill House Economic Development Corporation finally seemed ready to build the promised SHOP ‘n SAVE grocery store the community has been waiting 20 years for.

VacantGround
VACANT GROUND—Little appears to have been accomplished at the site of the Hill District’s future SHOP n’ SAVE. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Now, however, Hill House President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell said the project has hit another snag—a funding shortfall.

“There were several items that were left out of the scope of the project that have caused it to grow,” she said. “One is an equipment budget that grew larger than we anticipated. We are working hard to come up with a final number to share with our funders and are actively raising capital to close the gap.”

Hall-Russell said the HHEDC is reviewing everything in conjunction with funders and store operator Jeff Ross and all remain committed to the project. She did not, however, reveal the amount of the funding shortfall or give an estimate on when construction could resume.

At this time, most of the site preparation work is completed and water and sewer lines have been laid. But pouring the concrete footers, which Hall-Russell told the Courier in February was imminent, is now on hold.

The project calls for a 29,500 square-foot SHOP ‘n SAVE building that would feature bakery, deli, dairy, meat and produce departments, as well as frozen foods and health and beauty aids, and several thousand square feet of retail space fronting along Centre Avenue and Heldman Street.

Ross, who with his family owns four other SHOP ‘n SAVE markets, has invested $1 million in the $9 million project.

Even so, it is possible the shortfall is substantial. As the Courier reported in September, then construction manager Jason Matthews replaced Brinker Group LLC as the contractor after Brinker declined to reduce its $5.6 million construction bid by nearly $1 million.

Matthews, who Hall-Russell said was employed on a month-to-month contract, left when CM Solutions was announced as the new program manager last month. She said his departure was not related to his wife’s earlier departure, nor to the recent wrongful termination lawsuit she filed.

Jules Matthews filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming she had uncovered a misuse of funds, and was fired after bringing it to her superiors’ attention.

“Our only statement on the Jules Matthews case is that we are confident that the charges will prove to be false and that we had a third party review the grants and accounting systems before her suit and it was clean,” said Hall-Russell.

Hill Consensus Group Chair Carl Redwood said the delay is disappointing, but cost overruns are part of development.

“Look at the Consol Energy Center that went $30 million over budget and it’s all taxpayer money, so put it in perspective,” he said. “There is the $3 million development fund for the Hill District funded by the Rivers Casino, and they have an application before them. It’s frustrating but it will get done, and the Consensus Group will do whatever it can to help get it done.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@new­pittsburgh­courier.com.)

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