Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Good Fresh Investment

As City Room reported yesterday, the Fresh Initiative has made its first two investments in supermarkets located in underserved areas: "The New York City Industrial Development Agency approved millions in tax and real estate benefits Tuesday for the development of two new supermarkets in the Bronx – one near Tremont Avenue and one in Norwood.The projects are the first to be approved under the city’s Fresh Retail Expansion to Support Health program, known as FRESH, which encourages the establishment of neighborhood full-line grocery stores in low-income and underserved communities."

Now we have had our issues with the Fresh Initiative-particularly because of our concerns that it could be used for newcomer markets to put existing stores at a disadvantage. But in these first two instances, the program designated stores already doing business in the neighborhood-one seeking to expand, the other to rebuild after a fire: "On Tuesday, the development agency, part of the city Economic Development Corporation, approved approximately $3 million in real estate and tax benefits for a Foodtown supermarket to be rebuilt and expanded on East 204th Street in Norwood, where a Foodtown burned down in December. Western Beef will receive $5.6 million to replace and expand their current store on Park Avenue near the Tremont subway station. To qualify for FRESH benefits, both stores must provide a broad selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products."

This makes a lot of sense-and we have highlighted the Foodtown situation already. If the city concentrates on the expansion of existing neighborhood stores, the fresh program will truly be welcome. At the same time, the actions of Comptroller Liu in this matter are of interest: "At Tuesday’s meeting of the development agency, City Comptroller John C. Liu, an ex-officio member of the board, voted against the supermarket projects and two other city subsidies that came up for final votes. He said that he did not have specific objections to the projects, but had concerns about the process used by the Economic Development Corporation to choose candidates for financing."

As he should, in our view. The procedural mechanics need to be understood and fine tuned in order to prevent either favoritism, or the awarding of money to stores that aren't really in need: "Mr. Liu said that his staff would meet with officials of the development corporation to gain a better understanding of how the city decides which projects receive grants, loans and other financial assistance. At the least, he said, the city could do a better job of explaining that process to the public."

Still, both Foodtown and Western Beef are companies that have made a commitment to inner city food retailing. Their Fresh awards are well deserved.