Hill District residents have waited years for a grocery story, and for nearly 12 months, they were sure that local chain Kuhn's was coming. But those dreams may be reaching their "sell-by" date.
"Kuhn's hasn't signed a lease," Carl Redwood said at an Oct. 9 Hill District Planning Forum meeting. "We're upset. They're just dragging this process out."
The Hill District was supposed to be done shopping for a grocery store. Last November, the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority selected Kuhn's to build a full-service store -- equipped with a pharmacy, bakery, deli and café. The proposal beat out a scaled-down grocery store proposal submitted by St. Louis-based Save-A-Lot. (Neighborhood officials never set a date for construction to begin, but they hoped to have the store up and running sometime next year.)
In the months that followed, everything seemed to be falling into place. By February, the Hill House Association had secured a mix of private and public funding for the $8.4 million store. And in July, the City Planning Commission approved land-development plans for the 32,000-square-foot market, which is to be located at Centre Avenue and Heldman Street in the Hill.
That cleared the way for a signed agreement between Kuhn's and the Hill House. But three months since development plans were finalized, Kuhn's apparently still won't sign a lease.
Kuhn's officials could not be reached for comment by press time, and according to Jason Matthews, a real-estate investor representing the Hill House, the local chain has not said yes or no to inking a deal. Kuhn's officials have also not informed the community about any misgivings or concerns they have.
But Matthews says the Hill House has begun searching for another grocery store should Kuhn's back out permanently.
"We have not put all of our eggs in one basket," Matthews told a couple dozen residents and community representatives gathered at the Planning Forum meeting. "We've had a 'Plan B' for months, just in case Kuhn's didn't step up and sign a lease.
"Between now and spring, we're very focused on getting a lease signed," he continued, adding that they would like to start construction in the spring. "Every stone is being turned over to make it happen."
Redwood says the Planning Forum first heard about Kuhn's' reluctance to sign a lease in September. Initially, he says, "We were willing to do something to put public pressure on Kuhn's, but we were advised not to by the Hill House."
At the Oct. 9 meeting, Matthews said he feared that pressuring Kuhn's might "scare" other grocery stores from coming to the Hill. Evan Frazier, executive director of the Hill House, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Redwood would not say which grocery stores might be involved in discussions, or how many stores are in contention. In any case, though, Redwood remains confident.
Finding another store operator "will not be a problem at all," he says. "It will be Kuhn's loss."