State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle and Hill House Association President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell said they all have one thing in common. Whenever they are walking through the Hill, they are bombarded by residents asking, “when will we have the grocery store?”

HEARING IT STRAIGHT—Hill residents get information on all facets of the Centre Heldman Plaza and grocery project from all members of the development team June 7. (Photo by Gail Manker)

So, all three met with members of the community June 7 at the Wesley Center AMEZ Church to provide some clarity on the status of the twice-delayed SHOP ‘n SAVE grocery project.

First, the bad news: the opening has been delayed again. But, Hall-Russell told the audience that they now have a team in place that can address the issues that have held up the project—particularly a nearly $2 million funding deficit—and the store should open next spring.

“From my office I get to look across the street at dirt every day. I’m tired of that,” she said. “I want to hear noise, horns honking and people fighting over parking spaces because that’s what should be going on. This plan had a lot of holes in it. The biggest one was everyone thought it was fully funded. It wasn’t.”

Hall-Russell repeated the points she had made in a press announcement the day before; that Massaro Corporation has replaced Starks/CMI and will build the grocery; Massaro will produce a “guaranteed maximum price” that will then be taken to funders in three to five weeks. If they sign off, construction can begin in July or August and be completed for a spring opening.

“The funders have been waiting on some solid numbers. Then we’ll be rolling,” she said. “The deficit is about $2 million, but we have $1.6 million in pledges already.”

Hall-Russell said requests have also been made to the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative and the Greater Hill District Development Growth Fund.

Also in attendance were Urban Redevelopment Authority Interim Executive Director Robert Rubenstein, representatives from Massaro, grocery union representatives and the project liaison team from Hill House Economic Development Corporation, which owns the development.

Speakers fielded all audience questions about both construction and permanent employment opportunities on the project. Rubenstein noted that operator Jeff Ross remains committed to the project despite the delays, adding that though not all of Ross’ stores are union, the hope is this one will be.

As for construction jobs, Steve Massaro said there is a Section 3 component that requires hiring from the community and the project will be a prevailing-wage job, meaning non-union contractors can participate as long as they pay the prevailing union wage.

“But interested contractors need to be getting in touch with us, like now, because we’re going to be ­getting these numbers to the funders,” said George Germany, who organizes subcontractors for Massaro.

In addition to the 29,500 square-foot grocery, the Centre Heldman Plaza will also provide nearly 7,000 square feet of ancillary retail space. Hall-Russell said lease negotiations are currently underway with several retailers.

“We are just glad to finally have this great team in place,” she said. “It’s a relief to have an agreement on a solid plan and direction.”

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