UG and The Merc Break Ground on Downtown Grocery Store

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Today, the Unified Government (UG) came one step closer to bringing a new full-service grocery store to downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Officials from the UG and The Merc Co+op, invited the community to celebrate the groundbreaking at 5th and Minnesota Ave.

Several state, county, local officials and residents all gathered on the east end of the parking lot to be part of this important milestone and ongoing effort to mitigate food access challenges in KCK.

“It took a long time and a lot of hard work to make this new grocery store a reality, and we are thankful to have such great partners in The Merc Co+op. We know they will deliver high quality, fresh products at a good price point and they will provide top notch management,” said Doug Bach, Unified Government County Administrator.

“I am excited for the opening of The Merc Co+op in our downtown. So many people from our neighborhoods, from the co-op’s team, and from the Unified Government worked several years to get this project to a sustainable place,” said Unified Government Mayor/CEO, David Alvey. “I look forward to shopping at The Merc Co+op and I look forward to the services that it will bring to our downtown neighborhoods.”

“Downtown KCK and the surrounding neighborhoods have been without a grocery store for far too long, but after years of effort by countless people, the UG is excited to see this project come to fruition,” said Katherine Carttar, Director of Economic Development for the Unified Government.

“All residents of Wyandotte County – no matter where they live – deserve to have access to quality, affordable food, but sadly that is not the reality for many in our community. The groundbreaking of The Merc Co+op is a positive first step in ending the food desert in our area, and I’m glad to see community leaders partnering with community members and local businesses to achieve that goal,” said U.S. Congresswoman Sharice Davids.

The Merc Co+op is a community-owned cooperative business with 45 years of experience operating a grocery store. They are committed to building relationships through outreach, employing local residents with livable wages and benefits, and seeking feedback from the KCK community.

“Our unique business model puts the needs of community members first. The vision is to create a welcoming, multi-cultural urban market, offering a variety of products that include conventional, local and organic choices,” said Rita York Hennecke, General Manager of The Merc Co+op. “Everyone is welcome to shop at the co-op and anyone can become an owner.”

Dr. Nozella Brown, K-State Research and Extension County Director, says this co-op model will provide a unique space in the county for community engagement and education.

“Our role at KSRE is to provide education that is accessible, relevant and empowering for all citizens. I’m excited to have another venue where community members can access educational resources that will allow them to improve their health and quality of life,” said Dr. Brown.

K-State Extension partnered with The Merc Co+op to facilitate over a dozen listening sessions to receive input on the products and programs that residents, community agencies and surrounding churches want the co-op to offer. In addition, the Unified Government hosted two public meetings to gather input on the proposed architectural design options. Over 350 people provided their feedback.

This project is made possible by a public-private partnership that is likely to help bring additional investment into the area. The three year management agreement requires the co-op to pay property taxes, utilities, and includes hours of operation, services, community benefits and financial structure.

“The store not only helps provide a desperately wanted community need, but also brings a much-needed retail presence that will attract thousands of patrons every day to Downtown KCK,” said Jason Norbury, Executive Director of the Downtown Shareholders. “Further, the grocery store will, combined with the influx of new employees to the area, help invigorate the east end of Downtown and provide an anchor for future development.”

The approximately $7 million project is being funded through the Hotel Revenue Fund at $3.2 million and $1.6 million from sales tax and property tax from the Downtown Grocery Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, which was approved by the Commission on August 30, 2018 to recoup expenditures.

The Unified Government was able to leverage other financing tools due to the grocery store’s location within a limited food access area. With the assistance of Sunflower Development Group, the UG received New Market Tax Credits allocated by the Central Bank of Kansas City that net nearly $1 million in proceeds. The federal tax credit program provides an incentive to invest in distressed Census tracts, giving investors a tax credit to offset their federal income tax. Additionally, Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) provided low-cost capital to complete the financing of the project with access to Healthy Food Financing Initiative funding and the purchase of $1.42 million in General Obligation Bonds issued by the Unified Government.

“We are proud to be a part of The Merc Co+op project along with the other stakeholders. We know how important sustainable food is to the health of our communities. CBKC looks forward to downtown KCK progress with the opening of The Merc Co+op,” said Bill Dana, President/CEO of Central Bank of Kansas City. Bach adds, “We know that KU hospital has invested over $60 million right across the street and because of this grocery store we are talking with other developers about future projects nearby. It took the commitment of our mayor and commission to make this happen and I know they expect my staff to keep working to make this area thrive.”

Jason Norbury