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'We’re not going to stop': Group continues push to bring a grocery store to west Bloomington

Vacant property surrounded by chain-link fence
Eric Stock
The former Fox Plaza West shopping center sits vacant as a west Bloomington group works to purchase the property.

The group that's been trying for years to bring a grocery store to the former Fox Plaza West shopping center in west Bloomington is still optimistic that it will happen despite a series of setbacks.

The property failed to sell during a recent auction.

Arthur Haynes is president of the West Market Street Council. He said his group's effort to acquire the property is still alive.

“We’ve got a lot of great things moving in our direction as far as what we have been trying to do for the last 4 1/2 years, which is to develop the property and bring economic development to the community,” Haynes said. “I’m hoping to have a positive update very soon.”

Haynes said the centerpiece of the effort — a full-service grocery — would supply vital support to a food desert in west Bloomington.

He said one Hispanic grocery that’s located west of the residential area cannot alone service the area's food needs, especially in an area where many residents lack transportation or have health issues.

Haynes said the project had momentum a few years ago. The former shopping center was demolished in 2020 and the group had architectural designs done for a grocery and shopping center.

Haynes said the property’s previous owner, Ragesh Kumar, had agreed to pay for demolition and sell the property to the West Market Street Council, but Kumar died in 2020.

‘They just don’t care’

Haynes did not discuss how the West Market Street Council plans to finance the project, adding the group sought technical assistance from the City of Bloomington to apply for grant funding. He said the city did not help, and that made it harder to secure funding.

“They just don’t care," Haynes said of the city. “There’s no concern for that community as far as I’m concerned, and it shows through the years and years of disinvestment,” Haynes said.

A city spokesperson declined to comment, citing legal issues with the property.

Haynes said the group remains determined to make the grocery story project happen.

“We’re not going to stop until it’s done. It’s not an option (to quit). People are dying in that community, children are going to bed hungry every night in our community,” he said.

Block party

Haynes also is president of CHARM Inc. CHARM is an acronym for community, humanitarianism, assistance, revitalization and mentorship. The organization is hosting the 10th annual west Bloomington block party from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Howard and Market streets.

Haynes said he's seen positive change in west Bloomington in the 10 years since his group was formed, adding he sees more cooperative spirit than he used to.

“I’ve seen a culture with our organizations where there’s not a lot of collaboration. That’s where CHARM Inc. was birthed, to be that organization that brings organizations who share the same passions, who have the same goals in the community, bring them together and get them to work together,” he said.

Haynes noted one example where several organizations have worked to secure grants for home construction and renovations on the city's west side.

The block party will include food, games, live music, poetry and a proclamation from Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe. Haynes noted this will be the final year CHARM Inc. will host the party. He said other groups, including VIP (Violence Intervention and Prevention) and Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence, will take over the effort next year.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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