Will another Pittsburgh grocery store be subsidized?

Will another Pittsburgh grocery store be subsidized?

Let’s hope we don’t have to say “Here we go again” — again. But that might just be the case, at least in one aspect and, perhaps, in a critical other.

Giant Eagle is reported to be “a top candidate” to bring a full-service grocery store to an expansive redevelopment project in Oakland. The project — known as the “Oakland Crossings Initiative” — would turn 13 acres into a mixed-use development, heavy on new housing. It’s a joint project of Walnut Capital and the University of Pittsburgh.

While Walnut Capital says it has been in “advanced” talks with the grocery giant, Giant Eagle officials say it’s “very early in the process.”

OK. But inquiring minds want to know if there are plans to have any public subsidies in the grocery deal.

It’s a valid question, considering the public subsidies thrown at the failed Shop ‘n Save grocery store in the Hill District and public subsidies included in the deal to replace Shop ‘n Save with Salem’s Market & Grill in the same, but expanded, space.

Well?

That said, there’s an ancillary troubling tidbit that came out of a long and contentious zoning fight over the Oakland Crossings project: Government dictating the product mix of whatever grocer signs on to the redevelopment.

As the Post-Gazette reports it:

“The revised zoning worked out as part of the agreement also sets standards for groceries, including a provision that at least 25 percent of the inventory by volume must be perishable goods like dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, and frozen foods that may include meats, poultry and fish.”

“Standards for groceries”?

Government, of course, has no business setting the inventory of any business, let alone “standards for groceries.” And that only further raises a red flag about subsidies:

Any business that would agree to such an incursion into its inventory purview surely must be expecting something in return.

And that’s no matter how well intentioned. Though, as we’ve come to learn – and as we have previously documented (https://www.alleghenyinstitute.org/more-on-salems-subsidies-the-food-desert-myth/), government-as-grocer product diktats invariably are based on “progressive” notions that seldom are supported by the facts.

By the way, we’ve yet to hear back from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) on what appears to be a major anomaly (among a few) in its lease with Salem’s.

It was on Feb. 24 that we asked why Salem’s would be paying property taxes on its new store when the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers don’t pay property taxes in their leases with Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority.

The URA said it was because Salem’s was a for-profit concern. OK, taxpayers should welcome the payments.

But per the City Controller’s Office (from a 2015 report cited by Eric Montarti, the Allegheny Institute’s research director), until properties owned by public authorities are sold to a private entity, real estate taxes are not assessed.

So, is Salem’s paying an amount in lieu of taxes? If so, why aren’t the sports teams?

Yes, we understand that different authorities are involved but this provision should be standard across all authorities, should it not be?

Inquiring minds want to know. Inquiring minds continue to await the URA’s response.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).