R epresentatives from the New York State Healthy Food and Healthy Communities Fund, a financing program that helps facilitate the development of food markets in under-served communities, has designatedWhitehallas a town that qualifies for assistance.
Several local officials met with representatives from The Low Income Investment Fund, Pennsylvania-based organization The Food Trust, and Karl Benedikt from Tower Associates Realty last Wednesday inSaratoga Springsto see how the groups can help bridge a gap to finance and attract a supermarket to come toWhitehall.
Among the local officials in attendance were Dana Grant and Bethe Reynolds from theWhitehallChamber of Commerce, Mayor Peter Telisky and Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon.
Although the meeting was characterized as “tentative,” officials are hopeful that it might be the stimulus for the development of a grocery store inWhitehall.
“The point of the meeting was to find out what the group does, which is essentially offer financing and grant money for the construction of grocery stores in underutilized communities. It’s essentially a three stage process and we have completed the first two stages,” Chamber of Commerce member Dana Grant said.
Benedikt, a real estate developer fromNew Jersey, applied for a grant through the Healthy Food and Health Communities Fund, and the community and the site were ruled eligible.
The site that is being considered is the former Champlain Mills site on Poultney Street/Route 4. The site is approximately 11.5 acres and has the capacity for up to 90,000 square feet of retail space.
The final step and perhaps the most difficult is getting a grocery store to commit to putting a store inWhitehall.
Benedikt said his firm has spoken with five different grocery store operators, but have yet to receive a firm commitment from any of them.
“We’ve gotten relatively close but none have committed. We trying to see if an infusion of cash would move this thing along,” Benedikt said.
The New York Healthy and Healthy Communities Fund is a $30 million statewide initiative to promote healthy communities. Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), the organization that manages the fund works in collaboration with The Food Trust, an organization based in Philadelphia, to meet the financing needs of food markets in underserved communities, which are often unable to obtain financing for infrastructure costs and credit needs.
The fund provides grants and/or loans for capital projects and related predevelopment activities, including real estate acquisition, construction or rehabilitation, leasehold improvements, equipment and infrastructure.
The fund can be used to benefit for profit and not-for-profit grocers in underserved areas of the state, which have been defined as areas where 50 percent of the population are living at a low or moderate income level.
The funds aren’t for use by a municipality but instead are distributed to the developer or grocer to help cover the expense of establishing a store.
“This group is a glimmering light. They offer funding where it might otherwise not be available,” Grant said.
Katie Scallon, program manager for LIIF, said the cash is there if a grocer commits toWhitehall.
“The only holdup is a lack of a commitment from a store,” she said.
Because of Whitehall’s demographics, the community wouldn’t be eligible for a large store, but instead are looking at grocery markets in the 30,000 square foot range that offer food at affordable prices.
“We need to find a store that is fair priced and appropriate for the community,” Telisky said.
Aldi’s and Price Rite have been mentioned as possibilities and Telisky said Bottom Dollar, a grocer out ofPennsylvaniawho is looking to expand intoNew York, was mentioned as well.
Convincing a grocery store to come toWhitehallwon’t be easy in light of the current economic climate.
Benedikt said some of the grocery stores he has spoken with have expressed concern about “a lack of rooftops” (many grocery stores don’t view it as a big enough market and tourist traffic isn’t as desirable in the food market industry) and a lower than preferred average household income.
They have also expressed concerns, and rightfully so, about previous grocery stores in the community that have failed.
“We are trying to reassure them the need is real and they can be successful,” Benedikt said. “We’ve been talking to we’re blue in the face with the same characters for the last few years, but I think we’re starting to inch forward.”
Benedikt said they may conduct a feasibility study to determine how many people from the surrounding areas might use the store. It’s hoped the findings could then be used as a “tool to put the thing over the top.”
If officials can get a grocery store to commit, it would be part of shopping plaza with several different businesses.
“There could be a whole host of things that could jump on board with it,” Telsiky said, pointing out that the town has a need for an auto parts store.
It would also provide some sorely-needed jobs.
Telisky said he would like to work with other stores in the community to find a grocery store that compliments the services already offered at stores such as Stewarts, Putorti’s and Green Mountain Produce.
A site review plan is expected to be in the works very soon and an environmental impact of the proposed sight would have to be completed.
Benedikt said he the project would require a $5 million commitment on their part.
LIIF has not put forth any deadlines by which a commitment is due and Benedikt says they continue to work to make it happen.
“It’s in our best interest to get this thing done yesterday. The town really wants a grocery store and it’s our directive to bring one in. We just need everyone pushing in the same direction at the same time.”