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A three-year initiative launched by Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration in late 2019 to recruit new grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods in the parish sunsetted last year without any deals for a new store.
For the Healthy Food Retail Initiative, the administration partnered with Hope Enterprise Corporation of the Mid-South, a Jackson, Mississippi-based credit union. The intention was for Hope Enterprise to provide loans to eligible grocers planning to open stores in certified food deserts in the parish.
The $1.8 million contract with Hope was supposed to be funded through $750,000 from the city-parish’s general fund, $750,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds and $300,000 from the mayor’s Healthy BR program.
Hope Enterprise is the same organization that partnered with New Orleans in 2011 for its Fresh Food Retailer Initiative. That city and Hope Enterprise partnered on $14 million in repackaged Community Development Block Grant funds to the program, which financed the opening of three new stores, including a Whole Foods Market.
Because no new grocer was recruited through the program, city-parish spokesperson Mark Armstrong says the city-parish ultimately paid only $26,000 to its program partners, Hope Enterprise and Pennsylvania-based nonprofit The Food Trust to cover administration costs. That $26,000 was paid through Healthy BR and was funded through philanthropic contributions, according to Armstrong.
The remaining $1.7 million earmarked for the program was intended to be used as loan capital for grocers who decided to open a new store.
“Ultimately, the contract came and went with that initiative and we haven’t found a grocer yet,” Armstrong says. “The administration still very much wants to support a new grocery store and is still committed to providing funding once we find a partner.”
While this specific initiative ultimately didn’t pan out, Armstrong stresses that the city-parish stands ready to invest in a new store and has made progress in cultivating access to fresh foods in underserved neighborhoods, including its partnership with Dollar General to stock fresh produce at its north Baton Rouge stores as well as with Our Lady of the Lake’s Geaux Get Healthy program.
The new Rouses grocery planned for north Baton Rouge, on the corners of Florida Boulevard and North Ardenwood Drive, was not part of the initiative, Armstrong says.