As state remains in budget stalemate, Chester left hungry for a supermarket

Posted: July 28, 2009

Two months ago, a deal to build a supermarket in Chester was so close that residents could practically taste it.

Now, with a key deadline having passed, cautious optimism has given way to uncertainty.

The impoverished Delaware County city hasn't had a full-service grocery since 2001, and plans to build a new supermarket there have been on the horizon for almost as long.

Aided by $47 million in state funding, construction of a $115 million professional-soccer stadium is under way on the Chester waterfront. It is unclear, however, whether state money for the supermarket - which lawmakers say was part of the stadium deal - will be released.

Up to $4 million was earmarked for the store last year, at the insistence of state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland.

"That was part of the deal," said Johnna Pro, spokeswoman for state House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans. "The supermarket [funding] was part of the whole soccer-stadium deal."

But Gov. Rendell decides what money is dispersed from the capital budget, and his office has been noncommittal.

"There are more projects listed in the capital budget than can possibly be funded," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said yesterday, as legislators remained locked in a budget stalemate.

Brandywine Financial, a Chadds Ford-based developer, is counting on public funding to build the supermarket, which would anchor a shopping center. It had signed an agreement to purchase a 12.4-acre plot from the Chester Housing Authority, but missed a June 30 deadline to move forward on the project.

The site, at 15th Street and Highland Avenue, is across from an upper West End neighborhood that the city is trying to redevelop.

"I can't tell you how key that is to turning around Chester, particularly that end of it," Robert Rosenberg, who ran the housing authority until 2005, said of the proposed grocery store.

The lack of a funding guarantee from the state appears to be a major impediment to closing the deal.

"Given what's going on in Harrisburg budget-wise, I don't know if we're on the top of anyone's radar screen," said Steven A. Fischer, executive director of the housing authority.

Kirkland, who represents Chester in the Legislature, said yesterday that a new developer might be sought.

Rosenberg, who remains closely involved in the supermarket negotiations, plans to meet with Brandywine today to discuss the project. Representatives for Brandywine and Collins Markets, the proposed operator of the supermarket, declined to comment.

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