A rendering of the completed Centre Heldman Plaza

The Hill District’s 29,500 square-foot Centre Heldman Plaza is nearly complete. A year after the development’s anchor tenant, Shop ‘n Save, opened its doors and reversed the neighborhood’s designation as a food desert, five new retail businesses will offer basic services to residents close to home.

Dollar Bank, located inside the Shop ‘n Save, is already operational. Nationwide Insurance is expected to open within the next week, with Cricket Communications following close behind. Crazy Mocha Coffee and Subway are expected to open by January 2015.

Located along Centre Avenue, the $13.2 million plaza has been in the works since 2009, when the Hill House Association (HHA) and the Hill House Economic Development Corporation (HHEDC) began putting together a financing plan. Completion of the 6,800 square feet of retail space serves to strengthen the neighborhood says HHA and HHEDC President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell.

“It’s a bigger deal than just being able to buy fresh grapes,” she says. “When you have a community that doesn’t have access to fresh food and basic retail options, it’s a hardship. It does something to the social identity of a place.”

Beyond decreasing the time and effort residents expend on seeking groceries, the new retailers will offer employment opportunities as well as gathering places: a spot to grab a sandwich or meet a friend for a coffee. Hall-Russell says she’s looking forward to seeing the community’s activity increase after years of investment.

“It’s been a long process and I’m proud of the community. I know they were getting impatient because the promise of this retail center was so long unfulfilled. They’ve been very supportive and that was one of the immeasurables that kept us going when things got difficult.”

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.