After approving the hiring of a new executive director, the Urban Redevelopment Authority board voted Thursday, Nov. 14, to acquire the former Shop ’n Save site and other retail space in the Hill District’s Centre Heldman Plaza for $1.6 million.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will take over a loan from Dollar Bank, which has held the 2.57-acre property in receivership. URA senior counsel Kate Wrenshall said the move means the URA can have a community process regarding the property’s future, rather than it going to the highest bidder.
Opened in 2013, the Shop ’n Save was the Hill District’s only full-service grocery store. It closed in March as a result of low foot traffic and a dispute between the store’s owner and its landlord, Hill House Economic Development Corp. The shopping plaza was built with nearly $4 million in public money, including $1 million from the URA. Its loss comes amid the recent financial collapse of the Hill House Association.
The property at 1850 Centre Ave. includes a 29,500-square-foot vacant grocery store and four vacant retail suites totaling 6,910 square feet. Next steps for the property are still being determined. City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who sits on the URA board and represents the Hill District, said there will be a “robust community process” for residents to say how they want the land to be used.
At the meeting, Hill District residents and community leaders expressed concerns about the lack of community involvement in URA decision making.
Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC), urged the board to reconsider the URA’s community process. She explained that the process previously involved close coordination with community organizations.
“A lot of community process has happened without a community partner, and that’s a new thing,” Milliones said.
E Properties and the Hill CDC purchased four buildings owned by the Hill House Association earlier this year for about $5 million. The Centre Heldman Plaza, another Hill House property, was not among them.
The URA board approved a motion for URA staff to create a work plan to develop a community engagement process that will include community organizations and residents of the Hill District.
Regarding development in East Liberty, the board also voted to enter into exclusive negotiations with Beatty Street Development Team for the development of two mixed-use buildings. The site is owned by public entities including the URA, City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Parking Authority.
Plans for the six-story Beatty Square Apartment building at South Beatty and Eva streets include 220 residential units—66 of which would be affordable at 20 percent to 60 percent area median income (AMI)—and 12,000 square feet of commercial space. Plans for Beatty Seniors Lofts, a six-story building proposed at South Beatty and Mignonette streets, include 40 units of affordable senior housing and 2,500 square feet of commercial space to be leased to East Liberty Development, Inc. for 99 years. Plans also include a 480-space parking garage.
While the URA has said the development will bring displaced Penn Plaza residents back into the neighborhood, some East Liberty residents and stakeholders brought up concerns, including a lack of Penn Plaza residents in the planning process and the potential for adverse effects for the nearby Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch.
“The advisory committee for this did not include any residents from Penn Plaza,” said Alethea Sims, president of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty.
Karlyn Voss, director of external and government relations for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, said the proposed development, particularly the planned 6-story parking garage, would “directly impact the visibility and access” to the library. She asked that the design be adapted to address these concerns.
Lori Moran, president of the East Liberty Quarter Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said she supports the project because it brings more parking and affordable housing to the neighborhood.
“Small businesses and all businesses are choking from a lack of parking,” Moran said.
URA board member state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Pittsburgh, said he appreciated the amount of affordable housing in the plan but that he shared concerns raised about Penn Plaza residents and the library.
“I want the library at the table, and I want somebody from Penn Plaza at the table, as we promised to bring people home,” Gainey said.
The board action included recommendations by the review committee including requiring the developer to meet with the Carnegie Library, Duolingo and other local entities. The board also amended the proposal to include a stipulation to work with displaced Penn Plaza residents as the project moves forward.
by Juliette Rihl, PublicSource
(Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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