Jobs, cooperation and future development the focus of Bakers Centre ceremonial ribbon-cutting event

 The atmosphere was so festive at the Bakers Centre ribbon-cutting event that few were likely to notice the errant apostrophe on the cake. (Laura Benshoff/for NewsWorks)

The atmosphere was so festive at the Bakers Centre ribbon-cutting event that few were likely to notice the errant apostrophe on the cake. (Laura Benshoff/for NewsWorks)

Though the Brown’s ShopRite has drawn crowds to a sprawling complex at Fox St. and Roberts Ave. since August, politicians including Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Corbett, residents, a gospel choir, two pastors and others gathered to ceremonially open the Bakers Centre shopping center on Monday afternoon.

The 220,000 square-foot shopping center — located where East Falls, Hunting Park, Allegheny West and Nicetown converge, on a site once eyed by casino developers — came about after years of work between community organizers and elected officials to secure federal and state funding.

Among the center’s 18 tenants are Brown’s ShopRite, Ross Dress for Less, Kicks USA and Radio Shack. One 3,000 square-foot space remains unleased.

Focus on job creation

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At the afternoon event, Allegheny West Foundation President Ron Hinton opened his speech saying, “Look at how many people are working!”

The applause received dates back to community meetings over the course of the project in which residents’ buy-in hinged on jobs and access. The project is projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs.

“We have around 300 employees,” said ShopRite Owner Jeff Brown. “We received 8,000 applications.”

UpLift Solutions — the non-profit arm of Brown’s Super Stores Inc. — provided several entry points for local job-seekers.

“We made sure there was a place … where people could go apply if they didn’t have access to the internet,” said Donna Leuchten, UpLift’s director of sustainable-food systems.

SEPTA also pitched in by rerouting its Routes R and 56 buses to bring shoppers and workers to Bakers Centre.

Attendees Roy and Denise Whitaker said they were pleased with both the process and outcome.

“I think it’s a very good vision that came to be,” said Roy Whitaker, who participated in several community meetings related to the development. “I have a cousin who works at ShopRite and my son works at Kicks USA.”

Next up, the Tastykake Factory

Michael Grasso, CEO of Metro Development Corp, told NewsWorks on Monday that the company has big plans for the property next door: The old Tastykake Factory on the 2900 block of W. Hunting Park Ave.

“[There will soon be] 460,000 square feet rehabbed with new use,” said Grasso. “We’re looking at four tenants.”

Construction is slated to begin in the spring. The building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, qualifying developers for a 20-percent federal-tax credit.

“This did not happen by accident,” Hinton said. “This went through years of strategies to make sure that this community will not be impacted by vacant industrial properties. There will be more to come.”

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