Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will make a $1.37 million loan to the impending operators of a new Hill District grocery store in another step toward restoring a crucial amenity that has been missing from the central neighborhood for three years.

The URA board approved the loan, which will make up roughly 20% of the estimated $6.78 million cost of developing a new Salem’s Market and Grill location. The minority-owned business plans to add the former Shop ‘n Save space in the Centre-Heldman Plaza to its current Strip District base. In the Hill, Salem’s expects to employ 62 people full time, plus some part-time workers.

Abdullah Salem, one of the owners, said the business plans to bring “an entire food Mecca or a food Disneyland to the area.” He said plans for the combination grocery and restaurant include hot chicken, grilled food, farm-to-table fresh meat, fresh seafood, a full bakery, ample international ingredients but mostly conventional groceries.

“The Hill District is a beloved community, and they deserve the absolute best from a grocer,” said Salem. “It’s really not lost on us how big of an opportunity this is for us.”

The Shop ‘n Save that had occupied the space closed in 2019. Salem’s was selected following a community meeting, a polling process and then URA financial vetting.

“We know the duty that has been given to us by the residents, which is to solve a food desert,” said Salem. “Mediocrity is not an option. For us, excellence is the only option.”

He added that Salem’s will hire from the neighborhood and use local and minority vendors.

The low-interest loan from the URA’s Pittsburgh Business Fund supplements Key Bank financing.

Board members said little before approving the loan.

“I don’t think we can say anything that can top that,” said city Councilman Daniel Lavelle, a board member, after Salem made his pledges.

Affordable housing advances — at a price

The board voted on financing packages for affordable housing developments, twice waiving program guidelines to accommodate site challenges and rising prices.

For instance, a $450,000 grant to the City of Bridges Community Land Trust to build four houses in Polish Hill exceeds the $100,000-per-house guideline for the URA’s For-Sale Development Program. In all, the trust expects to spend $2.1 million to build the houses, which it will sell for no more than $150,000 to households earning 80% or less of the area median income.

Urban Redevelopment Authority staff member Evan Miller presents information on the City of Bridges Community Land Trust proposal for new homes on Brereton Street in Polish Hill, in a URA board meeting conducted by Zoom. (Screenshot)

Board member Sam Williamson noted that “$2.1 million for four units seems extremely high.”

“The site itself is quite challenging,” explained Ed Nusser, the trust’s director of real estate, noting a steep slope and the need to dig deep to connect the houses to the sewer line. “We are seeing significant material inflation increases,” he added, saying bids have inflated by around 7.5% in six months.

The board approved that grant and other housing investments, including:

  • A $325,000 grant to Oakland Planning and Development Corp. toward a $1.8 million plan to build four for-sale homes on Frazier Street in South Oakland, for moderate-income buyers, including two reserved for households with special needs and one for a household experiencing homelessness.
  • The sale of five URA-owned parcels in Fairywood, for $434,000, plus a loan of more than $1.4 million, to Cedarwood Homes Holdings, led by Tryko Partners, which intends to build 46 units of affordable senior housing. The loan required a waiver of Rental Gap Program guidelines thatwould normally cap that financing at $1.25 million. The Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh is also contributing 24 housing vouchers to the financing plan.
Urban Redevelopment Authority staff member Brett Morgan describes the plan for 46 affordable senior housing units in Fairywood at a URA board meeting conducted by Zoom on May 12, 2022. (Screenshot)

The Fairywood project was billed as the first development in the city’s western neighborhoods to be financed with low-income housing tax credits. “It’s exciting to see it take another step forward,” said board Chairman Kyle Chintalapalli, who is also Mayor Ed Gainey’s chief economic development officer.

Rich Lord is PublicSource’s managing editor. He can be reached at rich@publicsource.org or on Twitter @richelord.

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Rich is the managing editor of PublicSource. He joined the team in 2020, serving as a reporter focused on housing and economic development and an assistant editor. He reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...