It’s been so long since the Central Community Redevelopment Agency sparked discussions on a grocery store on the corner of 13th Avenue West and First Street that some are no longer convinced it’s what the largely low-income community wants.
“I’m concerned because during this election cycle, we had a lot of comments that led me to believe that the community in that locale is not together on where they want a grocery store built,” Councilman Gene Gallo said. “If in fact we do go forward, we have to be sure we are in the right location and I don’t know if we have gone out to the community to be sure.”
I’m not going to promise you the world, but I do promise to work hard and together to try and get this done.
Beneficial Communities developer Ken Bowron Jr.
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The first discussion on a grocery store for a new Minnie L. Rogers Plaza began in 2006. Wisconsin-based developer Endeavor Corp. was contracted to pursue what was then a fairly new tax-credit application process. The company successfully qualified and officials held a groundbreaking ceremony in October 2012.
The project collapsed one year ago due to developer empty promises, but the sting of that 2012 ceremony still hurts, officials acknowledge. No promises are being made by Sarasota-based Beneficial Communities, which has put forth a new mixed-used project for the site that includes a grocery store and a 90-unit affordable housing complex.
Beneficial received the backing of the CCRA advisory board in October.
“I know you’ve been down this road before,” Beneficial developer Ken Bowron Jr. said. “You got close to the grocery store and it just didn’t happen through no fault of your own. I’m not going to promise you the world, but I do promise to work hard and together to try and get this done.”
The project is estimated to cost $20 million. Beneficial would need to qualify for 9 percent tax credits through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation for $15 million of the funding. However, the FHFC system is lottery based and only about 20 projects are funded annually out of approximately 130 submissions.
Bowron said to try to build a similar project in the traditional private market would mean rent prices would climb to $2,000 a month, “and obviously that’s just not feasible.”
The council will vote whether to move the project forward at its Jan. 25 meeting. If approved, Beneficial will file a tax credit application in March and the results of the lottery will be announced by May. It appears the project will get a green light with stipulations the property not be tied up if the lottery attempt fails.
Vice Mayor Patrick Roff said one of “the holy grails of new urbanism is a grocery store with housing and this is it. In four months we’ll find out if this can move forward and I would like to find out if this will win the lottery. The motto of the Florida lottery is that you can’t win if you don’t play.”