A Bird in the Hand…

After years of complaining about the lack of a grocery store in the Hill District, it appeared that residents were finally getting their wish. A proposal for a grand shopping center, anchored by a full service grocery store with all the bells and whistles like a dry cleaner and bakery, was to be built in their neighborhood. This development won favor with residents over an alternate plan of a more modest grocer that would have met the needs of the residents despite the lack of extras. Most in the community chose the new development over the basic grocery store which could have been built quickly. They summarily dismissed the "bird in hand". But more than a year later, the full scale grocer has backed out of the deal and now residents are left looking for the "birds in the bush".

Local grocer Kuhn’s was to be the main tenant of a grand development scheme with a plaza, restaurants, and retail space-all for a projected price of $24 million. But with only $2 million in community benefits grant money (as of a result of an agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins and their new arena) to get started, this project was to rely on public subsidies to close the remaining gap. National grocer Save-A-Lot was not only smaller in scale, just a grocery store, but would have been built mostly with private money (in addition to the $2 million in community grant money).

It’s very easy to be swayed by promises of quick revitalization, especially when the taxpayer picks up the tab. But many times these grand schemes are not as solid as proposed. Many fail to live up to promises. Sometimes slow, incremental progress is the best way to go-especially when it is done with private money from an established firm.

With the community benefits agreement set to expire soon, the $2 million in seed money could be in doubt. It’s not clear why Kuhn’s backed out of the deal, but developers claim they will proceed as soon as they find a replacement. But how long will that take? When will the residents of the Hill District finally get the grocery store they need? This is a classic case of directed economic development failing the people instead of helping.