Business

New location, operator for downtown Kansas City, Kan., grocery store revealed

The Merc, a cooperative grocery store, will go up at the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue in downtown Kansas City, Kan., currently a surface parking lot serving the Jack Reardon Convention Center and the Board of Public Utilities.
The Merc, a cooperative grocery store, will go up at the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue in downtown Kansas City, Kan., currently a surface parking lot serving the Jack Reardon Convention Center and the Board of Public Utilities. Google Earth

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., has reached an initial agreement with cooperative grocer The Merc to operate a downtown grocery store.

Doug Bach, UG administrator, told members of the Economic Development and Finance Committee on Monday night that the $6 million grocery store project would go up at the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue, currently a surface parking lot serving the Jack Reardon Convention Center and the Board of Public Utilities.

The Merc runs one standalone grocery store in Lawrence; a Merc-branded cafe is housed in the downtown Lawrence Public Library.

"I'm familiar with The Merc and how they operate, and I think they will be a great partner," said committee chairman and UG Commission at-large member Tom Burroughs.

No vote was taken Monday by Burroughs and other committee members Brian McKiernan, Ann Brandau-Murguia, Jim Walters and Jeff Bryant.

A downtown grocery store has been a longstanding priority for KCK policymakers who hope that a full-service grocery store would be another element in the slow turnaround of the city's once-stagnant urban core.

Former UG Mayor Mark Holland sought a downtown grocery store, along with a YMCA-run community center alongside it, at 11th Street and State Avenue as part of what he called a Healthy Campus. But planning and fundraising proved to be slow — slow enough that Holland had no groundbreaking to show for his efforts by the time election day rolled around last November.

Holland lost his bid for re-election last year to David Alvey. When the UG Commission again took up the Healthy Campus idea in February with Alvey as mayor, they decided to hold off on the community center component while trying to cinch a deal on a grocery store.

The Merc had been in discussions with the UG for more than a year. But the location for the 14,000-square-foot grocery store is different from the original Healthy Campus plan.

"This is a location that the private sector community said, 'Hey, this works for us,' rather than us telling them, 'This is a site (where) we want you to go, to there,'" Bach said.

The Merc is expected to enter into a management agreement with the UG, which will own the building.

The grocery store will be paid for by money left over from the UG's sale of its stake in the downtown Hilton Garden Inn hotel as well as tax increment financing that allows the project to use new sales and property taxes that it generates to pay off project costs.

Bach said the UG eventually plans to sell the building to a private owner.

"That's our long-term goal," Bach said.

Bach said he plans to have a development agreement before the same committee for an August meeting. If the measure advances beyond the committee and the full UG Commission, city staff will develop final cost estimates in October and work out a construction time line.

Cooperative grocers like The Merc are run by a board of directors elected by members who buy ownership shares, usually for a small price in return for discounts and other benefits. Shares in The Merc go for $75 apiece, according to its website.

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