Residents of Richmond’s East End who have long hoped a full-service grocery store would return to their neighborhood may soon get their wish.
Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority officials said last week that they have nearly completed the process of acquiring land at the intersection of North 25th Street and Nine Mile Road for a grocery-anchored development.
“This large assemblage of land by RRHA will now make it feasible to develop this long-awaited grocery store-anchored, mixed-use development at this location by a private development entity,” the authority’s director, T.K. Somanath, said in an email. “More information on proposed plans for the grocery store and neighborhood retail center will be made available to the public during the next month to seek input and zoning approvals from city.”
The area qualifies as a “food desert,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a neighborhood where at least a fifth of residents live in poverty and 33 percent live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.
The RRHA is being aided in its effort by Bon Secours Health System, which recently approved the sale of property it owns at the intersection to the authority, system officials said in a report to Richmond’s Economic Development Authority.
As part of its involvement in the project, Bon Secours intends to provide financial grants and, potentially, would include a pharmacy and primary care clinic in the store once it opens, according to the report.
“Bon Secours is fully supportive of the effort to bring a grocery store to Richmond’s East End, specifically along the Nine Mile Road corridor, and expects to participate with public and private entities in its development,” Bon Secours CEO Mark Gordon said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the developers as they move forward, and we are pleased as progress continues toward making the grocery store a reality.”
Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ senior policy adviser, Mark Kronenthal, said landing a grocery store in the East End is a chief priority for Jones and that the administration is considering economic development incentives to support the project.
“We understand that a developer is going to be coming forward with a proposal soon and, if that proposal includes a full-service and perhaps employee-owned (store), we would absolutely be willing to work with them on some city economic development assistance,” he said.
Neither Kronenthal, Bon Secours nor the RRHA identified the grocery store operator looking at the property.
Jim Scanlon, a former executive at Martin’s Food Markets who is in the process of opening a community grocery store in Newport News called Jim’s Local Market, has previously expressed interest in opening a store in Richmond’s East End. Reached via email, he said he is “still working on potential opportunities in Richmond” but is not ready to announce anything.
Bon Secours purchased the property it owns on the site last year from the RRHA as an alternate location for the medical office building it committed to building as part of the economic development deal that brought the Washington Redskins training camp to Richmond. The health system is the primary sponsor of the camp.
To advance the grocery store project, Bon Secours has agreed to transfer the property back to the RRHA, according to the report. Somanath said he expects that to take place within the next few weeks.
“We are excited that the proposed new investments by anchor institutions like Bon Secours and private entrepreneurs will increase economic development opportunities, jobs (and) access to fresh foods and health services for residents in the East End,” Somanath said.
In his statement, Gordon said Bon Secours’ support for the project stems from a 2010 community discussion “where it was identified as a top need of and by the community.”
“The prospect of a large economic and community development project that brings jobs and access to fresh and healthy food is exciting to us and consistent with our mission to bring health and wholeness to the individuals and communities we serve,” he said.
As part of the Redskins deal, Bon Secours is moving forward with plans for the medical office building and a community center adjacent to its Richmond Community Hospital in the East End.
A groundbreaking on the community center is scheduled for April 19, according to the health system’s report to the Economic Development Authority.