A proposed grocery store in downtown Kansas City, Kan will address the nutritional needs of Wyandotte County residents. But local leaders should not abandon the other components of the healthy campus initiative proposed by the former mayor.
The tentative agreement between the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan. and cooperative grocer The Merc could be an important first step toward addressing complaints that too little has been invested in the central city.
Policymakers in Kansas City, Kan., have made building a downtown grocery a priority. But as critics point out, local officials often have focused their efforts and limited resources on development near the Kansas Speedway on the western edge of the county.
Former Unified Goverment Mayor Mark Holland had been the leading proponent of the Downtown Healthy Campus proposal. But he lost his bid for re-election last year, leaving the project without a key advocate.
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Although the proposal for the Healthy Campus originally included a new YMCA-run community center and a grocery store at 11th Street and State Avenue, The Merc will operate at the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Minnesota Avenue as a standalone store.
Development of a new community center has been tabled for now. But negotiations should resume as soon as the ink is dry on the grocery store agreement.
The Merc, a consumer-owned cooperative, provides access to healthy, local and organic food and products. It runs one grocery store in Lawrence and a cafe at Lawrence Public Library’s downtown location.
Under the public-private partnership, The Merc will manage the space, but the Unified Government will own the building. The plan is to eventually sell the building to a private owner.
If the development agreement gains approval from a committee and then the full Unified Government Commission, city staff would develop final cost estimates in the coming months and work out remaining details.
Like his predecessor, first-year Mayor David Alvey should understand that the 14,000-square-foot grocery store is only part of the equation for some of the county’s most vulnerable citizens to sustain a healthy lifestyle. The community center is vital as well.
Community organizations including the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, the Wyandotte Health Foundation and KC Healthy Kids have all pledged support for the Healthy Campus. They should use their collective sway to re-enforce how important the community center is to downtown Kansas City, Kan.
A spokeswoman for the YMCA said Tuesday that the agency continues to have conversations with the Unified Government about opportunities to build a new Y in downtown Kansas City, Kan. Those talks must continue.
Planning and fundraising for the Healthy Campus have proven to be slow. But that shouldn’t derail the effort. This week's Merc news could jump-start the rest of the project.
If county leaders are serious about revitalizing the urban core, construction of the new community center must be high on their agenda. And a public-private approach similar to the grocery store agreement wouldn’t hurt, either.