For all the talk of placemaking and city building across Michigan, State Rep. Andy Schor believes something very basic remains missing: local grocery options.
The Mid Michigan Democrat — and candidate for mayor of Lansing — recently introduced legislation he says will help fix that situation.
“We’ve seen a tremendous shortage of grocery options in downtowns and commercial corridors,” Schor told MiBiz by phone last week. “We see a tremendous need. We talk about placemaking and attracting young professionals and empty nesters — they need a grocery option.”
H.B. 4207, introduced by Schor in mid February, would require at least 5 percent of existing Community Revitalization Program (CRP) funds to be allocated for “urban food initiatives.”
According to a House Fiscal Analysis, the bill “would have no fiscal impact on state or local government.” Schor said the shuffling around of CRP funds would account for about $2 million of taxpayer money.
The topic of increasing access to food options has certainly been top of mind for myriad business and political leaders in the Grand Rapids area in recent years. As the city’s core downtown business district and surrounding neighborhoods have gone through growth spurts, stakeholders have talked at length about the economics of making grocery stores work in urban areas.
Recently, all the talk and economic efforts have started to bear fruit, with Walker-based Meijer Inc. planning a roughly 30,000-square-foot, grocery-focused store along Bridge Street, just west of downtown Grand Rapids.
Smaller-scale options have also started taking shape, with Grand Central Market LLC on Monroe Center Ave. expanding next door into the former West Coast Coffee space and offering more staple grocery options.
By and large, commercial real estate sources point to a “chicken or egg” scenario wherein retailers come when an area reaches a critical mass of residents, but the residents are hesitant to go to an area without the necessary retail services, grocery stores included.
“I think usually you have people moving to the downtown and then in order to get more people, you need more amenities,” Schor said. “You’ll always have some people that go there because they want live near work. I think the grocery store keeps them there and the grocery helps to encourage others.”