BRADENTON -- Elouise Bacon travels about 20 minutes each way every time she runs out of vegetables and meat.
Bacon, who for 78 years has lived near the proposed site for a new grocery store and eight other businesses in Bradenton, has something to say about the upcoming project: Finally.
We do need the grocery store, in fact we were hoping that it wouldve been like a Publix, you know, Bacon said. But were glad to have what we do have.
A group of developers wants to revitalize the vacant triangular lot near 13th Avenue West and First Street south of downtown. The lot and buildings there previously were home to the 13th Avenue Community Center.
According to Cary Neil, a principal of the New Start Group, they still have not signed a lease with any grocery store, but are courting the national Save-A-Lot chain. There are about 1,200 Save-A-Lot stores nationwide, including one in Palmetto and another one about three miles west of downtown Bradenton.
Part of New Starts mission, Neil said, is to bring healthy food alternatives to the community, create jobs and place properties that are not producing revenue back on the tax roll.
New Starts track record
The company has been involved with similar projects elsewhere in Florida as well as Wisconsin, Kentucky and Mississippi, Neil said.
One of those, First Choice Market in Louisville, Ky., started taking job applications last month.
The grocery store plans to open by mid-March and will hire 30 to 40 employees, said Stephon Gilkey, an employment specialist with First Choice Market.
The $4 million, 20,000-square-foot First Choice Market project is expected to revitalize the mixed-income Park DuValle neighborhood, said Chris Poynter, city spokesman. He called the grocery store the areas last missing piece.
New Start also has developed in Crystal River, about two hours north of Bradenton. Jackie Gorman, Crystal Rivers director of planning and community development, said property appraiser records showed the Sweetbay Supermarket there was built in 1987.
She said the grocery store and shopping center were very well received by residents and had a positive impact in the neighborhood.
It seems like its holding itself and the economy very well, Gorman said. Its maintained nicely, doing quite well. From a zoning standpoint, weve had no issues.
Neighborhood a food desert
The area under consideration in Bradenton is a food desert -- meaning it has limited access to healthy and affordable food, Neil said.
Dee Jones, 42, lives a few blocks from the site of the proposed stores. She travels about 20 minutes to the closest Wal-Mart store to do her grocery shopping.
Jones says her neighbors would love to have a store nearby, because it would be very convenient for the elderly.
Another neighbor, Kimla Coney, 39, said that any kind of growth for the community would be good. The planned development would be within walking distance from her home.
Coney said some of her neighbors shop at the Bravo Supermarket on the 2000 block of 14th Street West, but that prices there were expensive.
The new grocery store would be around 16,000 square feet and have an urban format, pedestrian friendly and catering to the specific demands of the community, Neil said. It will take about a year before the stores open, Neil said.
The project is estimated to cost around $6 million and is being funded in part by the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program. The program grants individuals and companies tax credits for their investments in low-income communities.
New Start will receive up to $1.36 million in equity through the program, Neil said.
Before we do a project, we have to show community impact, Neil said. The group then has to monitor and report the progress to the government, to show that we continue what we set out to do.
Under the tax credit program, developers are not permitted to bring in liquor stores, massage parlors or pawn shops, he said.
We have to maintain our focus, which is bettering the community, said Neil.
New Start, along with Bradentons Central Community Redevelopment Agency, is seeking the communitys input to identify what kind of businesses they want in the area.
Timothy Polk, interim director of Bradentons CCRA, said a challenge for the project would be getting the right mix of tenants for the other available spots -- an asset, not a deficit to the development.
Something we dont want is a check-cashing place, he said. They are predators. They prey on people with low income and minorities.
Given the lots proximity to downtown businesses and apartments, Polk said the development is considered a downtown project.
Polk said the businesses would be useful when people need groceries for parties or birthdays, or when they just want to get a sandwich or coffee. ... That would be ideal for people who work downtown.
The stores would also be within walking distance of apartment complexes including the Watermark and Bradenton Village, he said.
Nearby businesses, like a 7-Eleven and Race Trac gas station, have been successful, Polk said, and added he believed the new businesses would be equally profitable.
David Gustafson, executive director of Bradentons Downtown Development Authority, welcomes the project and calls the future stores a positive addition to the city.
Theres always strength in numbers and partnerships, he said, adding that the project would contribute to the DDAs plans for revitalizing downtown. It proves to retailers that theres a vibrant need for that kind of business in the area.
Elouise Bacon, a lifetime resident of the area, said she hopes developers will cautiously consider any traffic congestion or problems that could arise from construction. She also hopes that the new businesses would ultimately bring a positive change to the community.
We as families in this neighborhood want to see the store, Bacon said. We will be fighting to try to keep it safe.
A town hall meeting to discuss the project is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 15 at the 13th Avenue Dream Center, 922 24th St. E.
Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024.