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Hill District grocery…finally

There have been some changes in Jeff Ross’ life since he first agreed to operate the planned Hill District SHOP ‘n SAVE three years ago—he’s remarried, one of his daughters married and he has a new grandchild—but still no store, until now.

SAVING A LOT—Announcing that all the funding is in place for the Hill District SHOP ‘n SAVE, Hill House Association President & CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell thanks the community for its patience. (Photo by Gail Manker)

“To a degree you become frustrated. It took a while to get everyone on the same page to get the project completed,” he said. “I am sure the money is there this time and I anticipate starting construction the Monday after Thanksgiving and opening in July. We’re excited to get this finished and I want to thank everyone for their tireless efforts, especially the people of the Hill District. I’ll see you at the opening.”

Ross joined city, county and state officials, and community stakeholders for a Nov. 9 announcement at the Hill House Association’s Kaufmann Auditorium that three years and two groundbreaking ceremonies later, the grocery store project was finally ready to begin.

Amid the mutual congratulations, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill, recalled that a decade earlier he and state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, had held one of the first hearings on “food desserts” in urban areas of the state.

“I didn’t want those efforts from years back that led to the state Fresh Foods initiative, which is one of the funders, to be forgotten,” he said. “But this is your store. You told the discounters ‘no,’ you were willing to wait for a full service grocery. Thank you for your perseverance, and I look forward to shopping there.”

City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle also reached back to thank his predecessor Sala Udin for closing trouble bars and making Centre Avenue the kind of place where a Library, a YMCA and now a grocery can spur economic revitalization.

“It really took a village, Penguins, the Hill House, the CDC, the URA—none of this would have been done without those partnerships,” he said. “So I commend everyone in the Hill. We deserve a pat on the back.”

Urban Redevelopment Authority Acting Executive Director Robert Rubenstein said he had to be brief because he and Lavelle had a board meeting to attend so they could vote on the final funding approval.

“The past few years have seen a lot of hiccups, but it was not an option at the URA to let this slip away,” he said. “This is your store. You own it. Take pride in it. Shop and save in it.”

Similarly, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl applauded the contributions of everyone involved, especially Hill House President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell, who has focused primarily on the SHOP ‘n SAVE project since her arrival in September 2011.

“It’s a pleasure to announce that dirt across the street will be active again,” she said. “Our financing is complete and this very patient and deserving community will be rewarded.”

The total budget for the project is just over $11.6 million, with $7.4 million going to construction costs. The equipment budget is $1.4 million.

In addition to the 30,000 square-foot grocery, the Centre Heldman Plaza will contain another 7,000 feet of complimentary retail space. Hall-Russell said the Hill Houses Economic Development Corporation, which will own the Plaza, is currently negotiating with four retailers seeking to occupy space in time for the opening.

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