New Hill District grocery store won't be home for the holidays



When city officials and community leaders broke ground on the Hill District Shop 'n Save in April, they planned to open the neighborhood's long-sought grocery store in time for Thanksgiving. But apparently, residents will have to hop a bus to the South Side to pick up their holiday turkey for at least one more year. A change in the project's construction manager, local officials say, has made it nearly impossible to hit that target date.

"It isn't going to be up by November," says Carl Redwood, who heads the Hill District Consensus Group. "We don't see anything up yet."

Indeed, the construction site at Centre Avenue and Heldman Street looks pretty bare, considering a 29,500-square-foot grocery store was supposed to open there in just three months. Construction crews have graded the site, but despite breaking ground roughly five months ago, they have yet to erect even the skeleton of the building.

So what's the hold-up?

As the Pittsburgh Courier was first to report last week, the Hill District Economic Development Corporation recently replaced the project's construction manager, causing some delays in the development process.

Jules Matthews, executive director of the Hill EDC, tells City Paper her organization originally hired the joint-venture team of Detroit-based L.S. Brinker and Pittsburgh-based CM Solutions to complete the site development, as they have been doing since the groundbreaking in April. But when the Brinker Group bid on a contract for constructing the vertical building roughly a month ago, she says, "We made the decision to go with Construction Management Innovation," a Wexford-based construction company.

"We're pleased with the work [Brinker Group] has done," says Matthews. But "There were a lot of reasons" why the Hill EDC decided to hire another construction firm to build the store. "A lot of it comes down to [our] very finite budget."

The project is expected to cost $8.5 million, a portion of which will be paid for by public and private contributors. The Pittsburgh Penguins, as part of a community-benefits agreement reached with the Hill District in 2008, are chipping in $1 million; the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority is contributing $1 million; Allegheny County is giving $750,000; and Jeff Ross, the grocer who will operate the store, plans to contribute at least $1 million.

Because of the change in contractor, Matthews acknowledges that the original target date will be hard, if not impossible, to hit. "We're not on track for Thanksgiving," she says. "[That] was just a goal."

Matthews says she'll find out later this week or early next week what the new construction schedule will look like. But she notes that contractual obligations require the store to be ready for Shop 'n Save to move in by New Year's.

Officials from Brinker Group and CMI did not return phone calls for comment.

City Councilor Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District, says the construction delays aren't a huge concern. After all, "The Thanksgiving date was always a very ambitious goal," he says, adding that the change in construction managers "was in the financial interests" of the Hill EDC. "My larger goal is to see the grocery store open. And I believe that will occur."

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