Health Forward Foundation

Effort to Bring Grocery Stores to Low-Income Parts of Kansas City Moving Too Slow for Residents

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – An effort by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County to lure grocery store operators to underserved, low-income parts of the city has rankled some district officials and residents from the northeast neighborhoods who say progress has been too slow.

The most vocal critic of the Unified Government’s efforts is Commissioner Nathaniel Barnes, who represents part of northeast KCK.

“It just reeks of some kind of shenanigans,” he said.

Commissioner Tarence Maddox, whose district adjoins Barnes’, said he also was dissatisfied with the pace of the efforts. But, he said the real anger was coming from residents tired of waiting for a store to come to their area.

The Unified Government issued a request for proposal on June 22, seeking grocery store operators willing to work with the government to develop a store. The deadline for responses to the RFP is Sept. 13. Officials have said they hope a grocery will be built in the northeast within the next couple of years.

The government has identified two potential sites in the area. One is at 10th Street and State Avenue. The other is at 18th Street and Parallel Parkway.

Edwin Birch, a spokesman for the Unified Government, said administration officials were working systematically to attract a grocery to the area and pointed to successes elsewhere in the city as an example of what they hope to accomplish through a “deliberate process,” notably the 42,000-square feet Chas Ball Sun Fresh store constructed as part of a redevelopment project at 18th Street and Interstate 70.

But Barnes said he thought officials by going the RFP route had delayed or sidelined a promising possibility of getting a store sooner.

He said he had alerted local economic development officials in June that he had been contacted by the chief executive of Minneapolis, Minn.-based Praxis Marketplace, expressing the company’s interested in building a store on a tract that the Unified Government owns at 10th Street and Parallel Parkway. He said the company had signed a letter signaling its intent to do so.

Nonetheless, Unified Government officials proceeded to issue the request for proposal, inviting competing plans.

Barnes said he thought the RFP might be a deliberate attempt to drag out the process so someone else could take credit for bringing a store to the northeast once one is built.

Administration officials said that wasn’t their intention and cited a memo detailing their response to Barnes and their handling of the RFP. The memo noted that they had put a temporary hold on issuing the RFP while discussing the Praxis prospect with Barnes and then included the company among those notified of the RFP.

“While every process can always use improvement,” officials noted in their memo, “our process currently is working and staff is managing more potential developments than has ever been managed in the history of our community.”

But Maddox said voters in his district were growing impatient with the process and wanted to see action before next year’s local elections.

“They want to see shovels put in the ground before they go to the election polls,” he said.

Praxis officials also have talked about the possibility of developing a supermarket in an underserved area of Kansas City, Mo.

Officials at Truman Medical Center said they also had been in contact with Praxis executives as part of the hospital’s efforts to encourage development of a grocery. But they said at this point there was “no binding or formal agreement” with the company.

The Health Forward Foundation is proud to partner with the Kansas Health Institute news service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. This News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and the Health Forward Foundation and is committed to objective coverage of health issues.

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