Friday, April 1, 2011

Supermarkets are staging a comeback in sections that were once forgotten

"After years of neglect, Philadelphia’s neighborhoods are seeing a surge in retail development — anchored by supermarkets.

Hunting Park West, Cobbs Creek, North Philadelphia, Germantown and Parkside have gotten or are expecting new supermarkets and in-line retail, including restaurants, pharmacies and dry cleaners. Some aging suburbs have also gotten upgrades of late.

The latest plan is for the Bakers Square Shopping Center, a 200,000-square-foot complex planned around the former Tasty Baking Co. baking plant, at Hunting Park Avenue, Fox Street and Roberts Avenue. It will be anchored by a Browns Superstores ShopRite supermarket — the first in the neighborhood in decades. Other retailers will include Kicks USA, Hair Buzz, Ross and, nearby, Restaurant Depot.

“When we first looked at the Tasty Baking parcel, we thought it was a great site for retail. There was no retail within two miles. You couldn’t get a cup of coffee in the neighborhood,” said Mike Grasso, principal at Ardmore-based Metro Development Co., which is developing Bakers Square.

A fall 2012 opening date is planned.

Elsewhere, Cobbs Creek Shopping Center, at 58th and Balitmore, will undergo a $4 million upgrade, with the addition of a Sav-A-Lot supermarket and a Family Dollar store, said Patrick J. Burns, president and CEO at Drexel Hill-based Fresh Grocer, which will develop the supermarket.

Burns said his company also plans to replace an unprofitable Fresh Grocer on Chelten Avenue in Germantown with a new Sav-A-Lot supermarket. The surrounding shopping center, which will have complementary retail, will be redeveloped at a cost of $14 million. A completion date at year’s end is tentatively planned.

The city is not the only area reaping the benefits.

In Darby Borough, in Delaware County, Fresh Grocer and Metro Development teamed up to open Darby Shopping Center, the borough’s first shopping center in more than three decades and its first supermarket, a Sav-A-Lot.

In New Brunswick, N.J., Fresh Grocer is going to be an anchor tenant in a $95.3 million downtown redevelopment effort, known as New Brunswick Wellness Plaza.

Fresh Grocer is also talking to Atlantic City about developing what would be the casino city’s only full-service supermarket.

While urban shopping has gotten a lift of late, two urban shopping centers may have laid the groundwork.

In 2007, in the city’s Parkside neighborhood, Goldenberg Development Co. teamed up with the nonprofit West Philadelphia Financial Services Institute to open a Park West Town Center at 52nd and Jefferson. The $50 million shopping center, anchored by Loews Home Improvement Center and ShopRite, received funding from the state Department of Commmunity and Economic Development along with financing from Wachovia Bank.

Another groundbreaking development, North Broad Street’s Progress Plaza, was actually a remake of a 1960s-era shopping center owned by Progress Investment Association, a nonprofit started by the Rev. Leon Sullivan. The center, which dated to 1968, was renovated at a cost of $16 million and reopened in November 2009, anchored by Fresh Grocer.

Burns of Fresh Grocer said many of the areas where it has developed supermarkets were “food deserts” — neighborhoods with no supermarket and few options for fresh food. It is not uncommon for the market to go into areas that haven’t had a supermarket in 20 years, as was the case of New Brunswick, or even 40 years, as in the case of Fresh Grocer’s store near LaSalle University.

“We like going into ‘food desert’ areas and offering fresh foods and fresh produce,” said Burns. “People enjoy having a brand-new center.”

A common thread in the urban shopping centers is cooperation with neighborhoods and elected officials, but also the presence of incentives.

With the Darby Shopping Center, developers were able to secure federal “new market” tax credits, which allow taxpayers to receive a credit against federal income taxes on investments in designated low-income areas. The tax incentive, in turn, made the project more attractive to lender Beneficial Bank.

Likewise, Park West Town in Parkside received new market tax credits, which helped bring Wachovia on board.

In the case of the Cobbs Creek Shopping Center, state Sen. Anthony Williams was helpful in securing “RCAP dollars,” or state-subsidized loans offered through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The RCAP dollars have been under fire from state conservatives, who complain that a greater share of funds go to Philadelphia.

In Atlantic City, the supermarket project is being encouraged with help from the city, state and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

At Bakers Square, the developers have applied for but not received RPAC dollars as well as new market tax credits. It got preliminary financing from Firstrust Bank. Stores at the center will serve an area of 61,000 residents, plus the employees at Temple University Health Systems and Pep Boys corporate offices.

“Someone from Temple called us and said [the employees] want restaurants,” said Gregory R. Bianchi, a vice president at US Realty Associates Inc., which handles leasing at Bakers Square.

As an economic driver, the ShopRite at Bakers Square will have 300 employees; it is not known yet how many will be needed at other retailers. Yet local elected officials praised the project.

“Projects of this nature are essential to create and maintain neighborhood revitalization,” said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., 4th District.

“In the midst of a tough budget season for Philadelphia and the state, the development of the future Bakers Square shopping center is a perfect example of why we need to make investments in our communities,” state Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, D-Philadelphia/Montgomery, said.

The Food Trust, a Center City-based nonprofit, has been pushing for more supermarkets in the city, particularly in poorer neighborhoods.

The demand means developing in the city is different from trying to build a parcel in the suburbs, where neighbors often have many choices but less and less open space, said Grasso of Metro Development."

“It’s night and day. With Valley Square [Shopping Center] in Warrington, it took five years [to get OKs]. I went to meetings with a flack jacket on,” Grasso joked. “Here people get excited about it. This neighborhood is completely different.”

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