Council leaders spoke Saturday to a crowd of over 75 at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Bloomington. They said the nonprofit West Bloomington Grocery Store will not only provide fresh produce, but also access to essential resources.
"There's going to be two community services provided in the plaza. First is a health resource center, which we hope to include a community kitchen. The second is an educational and job training satellite site," said West Market Street Council leader Laurie Bell.
Aiming to keep dollars circulating in the community, leaders also announced that four local businesses have already agreed to operate at the location, including a yoga studio and apparel company.
"We're going to have a really healthy mix of both businesses and community services," Bell said.
Bringing back the sense of neighborhood, Bell said making everything accessible was a priority for the redevelopment of the West Market Street Plaza at West Market and Howard streets.
"There's a lot of pedestrian traffic in West Bloomington and the way the plaza is now, everything sits at the back. For us, part of the priority was to bring the stores up to the front and recreate a walk where the stores are right along the sidewalks," she said.
Council leaders also revealed they are working on getting the store to operate on solar power.
"It's 2020, and climate change is real, so if you're going to build something new in this day and age, you should be building it to be solar-powered. That's what we're aiming to do." Bell said.
While challenges such as funding, feasibility, and sustainability may arise, Bell said the council is prepared.
"We're designing a business plan that is for a sustainable nonprofit grocery. So the first part of that plan is that we are raising money in the neighborhood to buy the grocery store and outfit it so that it's not carrying a mortgage. Once the store is not carrying all that debt, if it starts out debt-free, we believe that the figures tell us that it is sustainable," she said. "If you take off a bunch of debt for equipment and setup, and the store is just there and needs to make enough revenues at the cash register to pay for the power, the products, restocking, and pay the staff, from the research we've done, that will be doable in this store."
West Market Street Council President Arthur Haynes said the next step is to get funding.
“After today, we're really going to start hammering out the the loan applications and all of the things that we need to finance the first stages of the project which will be property acquisition. I don't want to put a timeline on it, but in the very near future, we'll have funding for the purchase of the property, we'll take ownership, and from that point we can start our fundraising campaigns,” Haynes said. (The council reached an agreement to buy the property in August.)
The demolition in preparation for the plaza's reconstruction will begin within the next 60 days.
Haynes said the amount of community support for his group's vision means a lot.
"We've been working on this for about two and a half years, and in the beginning, it was a lot of discouragement coming from people who we were looking for support from so, to have this many people come out to support and help us get this project moving along, I don't even think I can describe what it means,” Haynes said. “It feels surreal and amazing.”