Monday, August 11, 2008

A Tale of Two Supermarkets

Thanks to a community revival triggered by arena development, and $2 million in seed money chipped in between the city's URA and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Hill District actually has its choice of at least two grocery store operators.

Mr. Frazier and a coalition of Hill District organizations, including McCormack Baron Salazar, a longtime housing developer in the area; Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, an urban design and architecture firm; and the Hill House Economic Development Corp., proposed that the community should expand its business corridor.

To that end, that group has planned the $24 million, 100,000- square-foot, Centre City Square, which would stretch along Centre Avenue between Heldman and Dinwiddie Streets.

"We should think about this as the long-needed expansion and development of Centre Avenue's business corridor," said architect Dan Rothschild, who designed the proposed Centre City Square.

That project would be an expansive complex with a full-service Kuhn's market, a pharmacy with an elegant plaza, outdoor dining, a cafes, restaurants and retail space.

"This is what the future of Centre Avenue should be," Mr. Rothschild said. "Our goal is to encourage foot traffic that will bring about development in this area." (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

Hard not to feel a bit more inspired by this Centre City Square project than by the Save-A-Lot bid.

"They are both interesting proposals. We want to make certain that the store we pick will stay," Tonya Payne, the City Council member who represents the Hill District. (Trib, Rick Willis)

That is certainly true. Still, something about the idea of a thriving 8-store local operation expanding to 9 as one part of an aggressive, multi-faceted development strikes us as offering even more stability than a 1,000+ nationwide discount chain store, constructed in a rush, that might just as easily opt out and cut its losses with the same lightning speed.

Save-A-Lot would build a 16,500 square-foot store in about six months, said Rick Meyer, a vice president at the chain.

"We're not going to have some fancy sushi bar. What you will have, though, is every basic food item you need," Meyer said.

We know some Hill residents that like sushi just fine -- not that any Kuhn's ever had a sushi bar. It's a modest enough operation in its own right.

Save-a-Lot boasts prices that can be "40% less expensive". That sounds hard to compete with, but many from the community are already shopping at the South Side Giant Eagle, and paying for the trip.

It's likely that many who could possibly manage that will continue to do so if the community were to introduce only a bargain-basement option. In the long run, that would render the neighborhood's venture an even more discouraging scene.

COMET TWOCENTS: A respectable, full-service grocery store with ancillary development is more likely to inspire optimism in the rest of Pittsburgh's Hill District -- which will be necessary to attract new residents, repatriating residents and a variety of new businesses and resources. It would also do more to enhance the environment for those already residing there.

Respecting that the community itself has the final say, we are looking for some game-changers here, aren't we? It sounds like the robust Centre City Square development raises expectations far higher, and shows greater confidence in a neighborhood that could really benefit from some already.


  1. the bigger they are the harder they fall

  2. According to media reports; the URA has the final decision.

  3. Well, Tonya Payne sits on the URA board, and the Mayor Ravenstahl appoints the lot of them. So URA - community; it's basically the same thing, right?

  4. ha. that is the same community that THREE years ago turned down an Aldi's that was coming in with NO economic development money that would have paid to put up a Rite-Aide too since they don't have a pharmacy. Oh, they were going to hire from the community and pay 12.50 an hour with benefits for part-timers too.

    WHY did the community stop that project years ago? because they didn't want a DISCOUNT grocery -- now a save-a=lot is okay? that is being paid for with money that could be used elsewhere? what is the real story, Bram?

  5. I completely agree that the Centre City Square is a much more robust idea for the Hill, but it seems like it is the dream of a developer that may or may not have a concrete idea of what the demand for that type of product would be in the Hill District. As it is right now, I don't see the development drawing large numbers of people in from many other neighborhoods, so the development basically has to be sustained by the Hill District community, at least at first.

  6. anon 6:14 - Gosh, I wish I DID know the real story. These things don't seem to have beginnings. Care to offer us any hints where to get started? I don't know about the Aldi, but I know that district does have a history of funds being allocated to it, only to get scotched when the Hatfields take over from the McCoys ... it'd be nice, IMHO, if they could start from today.

    Fifth/Forbes, it's not like I don't understand where you're coming from. I just think it's a good policy to set your sites high. One thing I've learned since I started covering the Hill, there are a lot more professional people and together people residing in the Hill than I ever would have thought beforehand ... and if even the other have the money to hire a jitney to shop and Giant Eagle, they ought to have the money for a Kuhn's. I do hope whatever it is succeeds.