The long effort to put a grocery store in downtown Kansas City, Kan., is gaining momentum.
The leader of a real estate group hired by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said Thursday night he has potential grocers interested and is ready to ask the UG to purchase land for a “healthy campus” that will include a downtown grocery store and a large community center.
“We haven’t put any land under contract right now, but we are hoping to have that considered immediately by the UG,” Bill Crandall of the CBC Real Estate Group told the commissioners during a planning meeting.
Crandall said his group is looking at plots between 10th and 11th streets and State and Ann avenues but is keeping its options open. Crandall said the store would be operated on land and in a building owned by the UG and could include a small café. He wouldn’t say who the potential grocery store operators are, but one is doing a market feasibility study that should be complete in a few weeks.
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“We have great hopes that will really catalyze us into the next step of getting into a development agreement with an operator,” said Crandall, whose group was hired with philanthropic dollars.
There are apparently two prospective operators for the downtown grocery store, but their identities have not been publicly disclosed.
Chuck Schlittler, executive director of municipal improvement district Downtown Shareholders of Kansas City, Kan., said he learned at a board meeting that two operators would prepare their own feasibility study.
“So that will have to take place before anything becomes public,” Schlittler said.
Crandall said the potential operators include both those that heavily rely on Associated Wholesale Grocers, a distributor based in Kansas City, Kan., and those that do not. All have to be able to serve downtown’s diverse demographics.
“The African-American community, the Hispanic community, the Caucasian community have different buying patterns,” Crandall said. “So the operator has to be nimble enough to accommodate those different buying patterns and have the right products on their shelves to interest them to come in.”
The grocery store has been a longtime goal of Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland. He said Thursday that he saw the potential for the “healthy campus” when he came into office in 2013. The Greater Kansas City YMCA was doing preliminary studies for the downtown community center and Associated Wholesale Grocers was doing a separate study for a grocery store.
He said philanthropic groups, including two health care foundations, urged him to form a master plan to combine exercise options at the YMCA and healthy eating options of a grocer into the healthy campus concept and provided $100,000 start it. Holland said the public input meetings that followed in 2014 created a sense of urgency the project couldn’t live up to.
“The challenge of doing the public process early like we did is it starts the public’s clock ticking in terms of expectations,” said Holland, who is up for re-election this year.
Bringing it all together has proved a challenge, and in the meantime another Price Chopper grocery store near downtown closed, further limiting the area’s food options.
But Holland said the latest developments have him confident the healthy campus will happen.
“I’ve moved from just cheery optimism to expectation,” Holland said.
Commissioner Brian McKiernan of District 2 said there definitely seems to be progress toward a downtown grocer, but it’s not a done deal.
“I’m still waiting to get more details about who those potential or real operators are and what the rest of the plan is as it unfolds,” McKiernan said.
Crandall said the key to getting the grocery store is combining it with a housing development and the $16 million community center that is to be operated by the YMCA.
YMCA officials at Thursday’s planning meeting said they had raised $11.5 million of the money they need for the community center and have several more “seven-figure” donation requests pending.
Meanwhile, Crandall said his group has “short-listed” five potential developers who have expressed interest in building the housing complex. He said the interest shows that the building booms near the University of Kansas Hospital and the River Bottoms area are spreading.
“It’s coming this direction,” Crandall said. “The pricing in Strawberry Hill is getting stronger and is strong (already). I have a lot of confidence that with the demographic shift back into the urban core that this will be an excellent area for development. But it takes really those three things: the retail development, the YMCA, the housing development.”