Building a new, full-service grocery store in the heart of Kansas City’s East Side will raise the positive possibility of more redevelopment in nearby struggling neighborhoods.
It’s part of the huge challenge facing Mayor Sly James, other city officials and lots of concerned citizens. They need to seize opportunities like these to attract new residents, housing, jobs and businesses to the urban core.
On Wednesday, James took a first step toward meeting those goals when he announced that the city would buy the largely vacant Linwood Shopping Center on the west side of Prospect Avenue between Linwood Boulevard and 31st Street.
The part of the center that once housed a failed grocery store will be torn down, rebuilt and then operated as a Sun Fresh Market. John Lipari, of Lipari Brothers Inc., pledged to be a “hands-on” operator of the store, which he said would offer very fresh produce.
Next to the Sun Fresh, the other existing part of the shopping center will remain standing. The city said exterior improvements will be made in hopes of attracting other tenants.
The project is a financial gamble for taxpayers. The city will use tax credits to help finance the project, City Manager Troy Schulte said, plus future tax revenue created by the grocery store to pay off bonds issued for the deal. Public incentives make good sense in this case, far better than approving them for greenfield projects in other parts of Kansas City or especially in the suburbs.
Putting a new grocery store along Prospect is part of a newly emerging plan to revitalize that crucial East Side corridor.
The new police station and crime lab are under construction at 27th Street and Prospect. City officials are working with the federal government to find funding to operate faster bus service for thousands of passengers a day. Other plans are underway to bring more multifamily and senior housing to neighborhoods along Prospect.
James said building the Sun Fresh Market would be the “beginning of the revitalization of this entire corridor.” In truth, that’s been said before. For example, the current forlorn Linwood Shopping Center opened to rave reviews almost 30 years ago on the site of the demolished St. Joseph Hospital.
Yet the old grocery store there closed almost a decade ago. The center today is a reminder that investing in the East Side must overcome hurdles that don’t exist in other parts of the area. History shows that a lone project can’t really lift up an entire community. It takes a much bigger effort to do that.