On a sweltering afternoon, Carlton English sat in the shade as his buddy checked on the contents of a jam-packed barbecue smoker. Ribs, chicken, hot dogs and corn were all ready for the lunchtime rush.
The pair shopped at The Restaurant Depot. But soon, they may not have to.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority recently inked a deal with Save-A-Lot that will bring a discount grocery store to Ridge Avenue in the Sharswood section of North Philadelphia, one of the city’s poorest areas.
Save-A-Lot will lease part of the 4.5-acre plot for a decade.
“The community really told us that they wanted healthy food, produce, and meats at an affordable price,” said Larry Redican, PHA’s acting general counsel.
Longtime resident Francis Ferguson is thrilled she’ll be able to get her groceries without traveling so far. Right now, the closest supermarket is a half-mile away. The Save-A-Lot will be around the corner.
“Senior citizens like myself, it’s good for me to even take a walker,” said Ferguson from her stoop on Nicholas Street.
Wayne Williams supports a supermarket coming to the neighborhood too, but he’s not as bowled-over by Save-A-Lot.
“Why not a decent market? Not putting down Save-A-Lot, but I think a Shop-Rite should be here. You know, we got a Fresh Grocer up there with Temple for Temple students,” said Williams.
Construction on the $4.5 million market is slated to begin in early 2017 for a Spring 2018 opening. The store is the latest piece of an ambitious $500 million effort to remake Sharswood.
In March, residents, reporters and Philadelphia Housing Authority brass clogged a grassy lot to watch the authority demolish two high-rise towers part of the Norman Blumberg Apartments.
But even before the dusty spectacle, PHA had already launched the first phase of the project, which includes 57 new housing units. Construction is on those homes will be completed in October.
The 10-year, 10-phase plan will bring hundreds more units. Most will be affordable. Some will charge market-rate rents.
PHA will rehab the senior tower at Blumberg, the only piece of the superblock at 23rd and Jefferson that’s still standing.
In partnership with PHA, Habitat for Humanity is building 20 new homes. The organization will restore an additional 30 properties.
“For most of these folks, their home is their largest and only asset,” said Carrie Rathmann, director of stragetic partnerships for the Philly chapter
Both groups will provide sweat equity during construction or repairs.
Under the plan, PHA is also expected to acquire more than 1,300 properties in the neighborhood — roughly 800 through eminent domain. The land will be used for both residential and commercial development. The agency will use some 300 parcels to build a brand new headquarters on Ridge Avenue, which will be built at the same time as the Save-A-Lot.
Redican with PHA said Thursday the agency has only secured funding for the first phase of the project and would not disclose how much of the $500 million has been identified.