A group of business owners and west Bloomington advocates has launched an effort to bring a full service grocery store and shopping plaza to that part of the community.
The new West Market Street Council wants to take over the plaza at the southeast corrner of West Market and Howard streets, where the former Pop's Grocery convenience store recently closed.
Arthur Haynes is owner of Silverback Apparel in Bloomington and is president of CHARM Inc., which stands for Community Humanitarian Assistance Revitalization and Mentorship. He helped create the council with Laurie Bell, who wrote a recent essay on West Bloomington’s status as a food desert titled “Recipe for Disaster: Food Desert in the Heartland of America.”
Haynes and Bell unveiled their proposal Tuesday at the Feeding The Cities Bloomington-Normal Food Summit at First Christian Church in Bloomington.
Haynes told GLT's Sound Ideas he believes a grocery store that west Bloomington residents could easily access would be successful.
He estimated at least 60 percent of residents in the neighborhood live off a fixed income and lack access to a full-service grocery store.
“Every dollar that they have is rationed to get through to the next paycheck,” Haynes said. “If a person has to take $5 or $10 out of that rationed fund account to put it toward a taxicab or a bus to get to the grocery store, they are putting themselves in a situation where I either have food in the refrigerator or have my light on.”
Bell noted a McLean County Regional Planning Commission study in 2015 identified the area as a food desert.
“That plan is sitting there but it’s no one’s responsibility to do anything about it,” Bell declared. “There’s words, there’s all kinds of things that go with it, there’s fancy renderings of what it could be like, but it’s absolutely nobody’s business to do anything about it.”
Bell said it will need at least $500,000 to take over the plaza property and do some building rehab. She said the group is in talks with the plaza’s owner to buy the property and undergo renovations. She said there’s no definitive plan for who would open or run the grocery store.
Haynes indicated Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner “enthusiastically supports the concept" and added the city’s Economic Development Coordinator Austin Grammer has been involved in the group’s discussions, along with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project, Prairie State Legal Services and Bloomington attorney and Bloomington City Council candidate Jeff Crabill.
Renner called the project a “step in the right direction” and suggested the city might offer sales tax breaks for a limited time for such a business to get off the ground.
“Usually (the city council) would say, 'Tell us what you need.' It doesn’t mean we are going to give it to you,” Renner said. “Tell us what you need and make clear some of your benefits, the benefits you are going to provide to the community.”
The city in 2015 pledged a 10-year sales tax rebate and five-year property tax abatement totaling $149,000 for Green Top Grocery in the advance of the co-op grocery store's opening in 2017.
Haynes and Bell said there’s no timeline for when funding would be secured or any renovations to begin.
The group plans to update its projects on its Facebook page and other social media.
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