Residents of Enright Park have been speculating about this behind the scenes since October as there were many clues on the table:
- MVA Architects, the team hired by LG Realty for the site planning, worked on the original expansion plans for Whole Foods at the Eastside development. It seemed odd that an out of town firm would be brought in without good reason, so when we saw this on on their website, we got suspicious.
- We knew that Whole Foods wanted at least 40,000 square feet (articles indicate new one will be 50,000sf!), when the current store is roughly 20,000, and that the expansion plans were being delayed due to the complexity of expanding at the same time that they operate the Eastside store. And they had a very limited window for the expansion (essentially February to September in order to not disrupt their "high" season that kicks off from October and runs until after New Years). So the idea of being able to build a brand new store without disrupting operations in one of their highest grossing stores in the Mid-Atlantic region would be appealing.
- LG Realty's lawyer repeatedly told community members that if we "only knew" who the anchor tenant was going to be, we "would be so excited" that we would stop our protest against the sale and destruction of the public park, and that we would be thrilled that our property values were going to go up. Clearly, he doesn't know our community.
- We did also hear from LG Realty at some point that there was a grocery anchor as part of it, and, given the plethora of options in the community, who would want to build in the shadow of Whole Foods except another Whole Foods?
- And, finally, developers are so competitive with each other, what a better feather in a developer's cap than to snatch a plum tenant like Whole Foods away from another developer?
It will be an interesting conversation now that the news is public. Historically, Whole Foods has been a supportive community partner to our neighborhood. However, 15 years ago they were building on a vacant taxi dispatch and parking lots. They weren't encroaching on affordable housing and a public park. Two-hundred low income households had not been displaced from their community by the developer. The community wasn't at risk of losing one of only a few green public spaces in the community, open and accessible to ALL without a price of entry, including majestic established oak trees, community basketball courts, and shady lawns*. The community wasn't yet feeling that we were in siege mentality against the waves of development that have since been rolling down Penn Avenue.
It's going to be interesting.
*Theoretically, the park has some protection via the zoning legislation that was passed this spring, but it is proposed to be redesigned, reconfigured, and it will certainly undergo significant changes with a major development adjacent to it. Designs forthcoming...
**Update: An article from Mark Belko of the Post-Gazette here.**