Jules Matthews, who was brought on to head the Hill House Economic Development Corporation by then President Evan Frazier and who was instrumental in bringing together all the parties needed for the Hill House’s signature Centre Heldman Plaza project, is leaving. Her position as HHEDC executive director will not be immediately filled.

“We are negotiating to have a new project manager—just for the plaza, but I’m not releasing any names yet because we’re still working through the scope of the job’s duties,” said Hill House and HHEDC President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell. “We should have that person in place by next week. At some point we’ll hire a new director for the ECD, but that’s down the road.”

She thanked Matthews for her work on the project, and wished her well.

As the Courier reported in September, Matthews’ husband, Jason Matthews, who is staying on as the on-site manager, replaced Brinker Group LLC as the construction management firm for the project’s anchor SHOP ‘n SAVE grocery after Brinker declined to reduce its $5.6 million construction bid by nearly $1 million.

The new contract went to CMI Contracting, which while not a wholly owned minority firm like Brinker, does list the father of Pittsburgh Steeler Max Starks as one of the principals.

Despite the change, Urban Redevelopment Authority Director of Diversity Affairs & Community Outreach Chuck Powell said at the time he expected the level of Black participation Matthews negotiated for the project to be maintained.

“Our (Minority Business Enterprise) participation is over 80 percent,” she said at a May groundbreaking event at the Hill House Kaufmann Auditorium. “And we estimate that construction will include 5,000 hours of resident Section 3 employment.”

The change in construction firms was the last of several delays to the project, which was originally slated to open in the fall of 2011. But Hall-Russell announced last week that, with the warm weather, the concrete footers for the entire plaza could be poured this month.

“We’ve reached an exciting phase as we prepare to pour concrete and begin the vertical build,” Hall-Russell said. “HHEDC, SHOP ‘n SAVE, funders, and other stakeholders are committed to delivering this project and will be thrilled to celebrate with the community upon its completion this summer.”

With more rain, however, she said, pouring the concrete this week is probably out of the question.

The SHOP ‘n SAVE plan alone calls for a 29,500 square-foot building that meets LEED energy efficiency requirements and would feature bakery, deli, dairy, meat and produce departments, as well as, frozen foods, and health and beauty aids.

Jeff Ross, who with his family owns four other SHOP ‘n SAVE markets, has invested $1 million in the $9 million project and will operate the store when completed. He said he plans to hire about 100 Hill residents.

In addition to the grocery store, the plaza will include several thousand square feet of retail space fronting along Centre Avenue and Heldman Street.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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