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Hill District deal angers Save-A-Lot executive

By Kim Leonard
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Save-A-Lot executive is angry over a section of the new community benefits agreement for the Hill District that he views as an attempt to keep his discount grocery chain from building a store in the neighborhood.

The agreement among the One Hill Neighborhood Coalition, the Penguins and government agencies was signed Tuesday. The contract related to the new hockey arena being built at the neighborhood’s edge provides $2 million toward a grocery store and calls for “good faith efforts” to ensure the business is a full-service store with a pharmacy — and is a minimum 25,000 square feet.

Save-A-Lot discount supermarkets don’t contain pharmacies and are smaller. “It appears to us that the language was purposely drafted to specifically eliminate Save-A-Lot,” said Rick Meyer, vice president of market development for the St. Louis-based company, though Hill District officials disagreed.

Meyer emphasized yesterday that his company is ready to build a store, right away, in a neighborhood that has lacked easy access to groceries for more than two decades.

“All I am saying is that there has been noise and talk and theories and grandiose ideas for years, and no one has ever delivered,” Meyer said. “We are ready to deliver.”

Save-A-Lot wants to put a 16,850-square-foot store along Centre Avenue on land controlled by Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. Prices would run 40 percent less than those in a regular grocery store.

But Kuhn’s, a locally based supermarket chain, more recently proposed a 100,000-square-foot store on the same site that would include a pharmacy, bakery, deli, meat counter and a fresh fish section. The Kuhn’s store would be part of a larger development called Centre City Square.

Neither URA officials nor Kuhn’s representatives could be reached for comment yesterday. The URA is expected to choose one of the proposals in early September. Kuhn’s hasn’t said how quickly its store might open.

Howard Slaughter, CEO of Landmarks Community Capital Corp., has been working with Save-A-Lot and said based on the specifications in the benefits contract, the discount grocer might have to drop its plans.

“If you already know one store is under 25,000 square feet, why put that language in there?” he asked. “The document should have said a ‘quality grocery store’ irrespective of the size.”

One Hill Chairman Carl Redwood said the coalition wrote the grocery store standards into the benefits contract. A larger, full-service market “has clearly been the preference of the community for some time,” he said, adding the document doesn’t exclude Save-A-Lot.

“We would like to have both, actually,” Redwood said of the chains, which could locate in different sections of the Hill District.

Hill House CEO Evan Frazier said early drafts of the benefits agreement contained even stronger, more specific requirements for a neighborhood grocery store. They were written before Save-A-Lot came on the scene, he said.

Frazier said Save-A-Lot still should be eligible to benefit from the $1 million each that the Penguins and the URA plan to put toward a new store. Frazier said he “would hope” the URA doesn’t choose a retailer based on terms in the agreement.

Slaughter also said Kuhn’s plan for a larger store with more departments shouldn’t be the deciding factor. “Whatever supermarket goes there, other retailers will follow,” he said.

Kim Leonard can be reached at or 412-380-5606.

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