Wait, what? PDC to subsidize a grocery store on Alberta?

Well, it’s not really a question.

Let’s try again.  PDC to subsidize grocery store on Alberta!  There, that’s more definitive.

As the Oregonian reported yesterday, the PDC will soon be selling (giving away?) a chunk of land it owns at NE MLK and Alberta.  I suppose the question mark was more for effect, implying the curious move by the PDC.

Why curious, you say?

Well, for one, city money is scarce and the PDC has already reduced staff due to budget cuts.  Second, if the PDC is intent on offering subsidies, why not in a more underserved neighborhood?

To be sure, the City is not giving away $2 million.  At least not technically.  They are, however, knocking $2 million off the purchase price of one their properties, thus paving the way for an “unnamed” grocer to set up shop at the site at a relatively low cost.

But why there and not somewhere in East Portland or (here’s the plug) on Foster?  The simple answer: PDC owns the land.  They’ve also identified that location as a “food desert.”  Sounds like a no-brainer then, right?

Well, let’s examine the idea of a food desert in that particular neighborhood.

New Seasons and Whole FoodsThe ugly:  Whole Foods is 1.3 miles away from the proposed grocery site.  In walking (Google maps) time, that’s 24 minutes—four minutes outside of the city’s prescribed 20-minute neighborhood theme.  Ok, you got us there.

The bad:  New Seasons’ latest store on N. Williams is an even mile away. Fine, who wants to walk the equivalent of four laps at a high-school track?  Especially if Google says it takes a full 20 minutes.  If you’re a slow walker, maybe that takes you out of the 20-minute neighborhood.  Poor saps.

The good (and this is where the food desert thing gets more murky):  The Alberta Co-op is .6 miles away.  Point 6!  Ok, co-ops are not for everyone.  In fact, they’re not for most people.  And you can draw the same argument for the aforementioned specialty grocers, New Seasons and Whole Foods.  But get this—there’s also a Safeway just a half mile away.  10 minutes by foot; four by bike.

Alberta Co-op and SafewayI know we can’t win them all.  And clearly I’m steeped in the “Foster needs a healthy grocery store” bias.

But Alberta?  Come on.

So what about Foster?

There is a grocery store in Foster-Powell, sure.  And it’s full-service.  And on the other side of 82nd (at Holgate), in Lents, there’s a Walmart that doubles as a grocery store.  But if we’re talking equal access to healthy and natural foods, there’s more to be desired.  And in terms of walking times, let’s look at those options, as well as the Safeway on Powell Blvd and SE Cesar Chavez:

– If you’re coming from the middle of Foster-Powell—say, Kern Park—you have a 23-minute walk to traverse 1.2 miles to Fred Meyer.  Not bad.  But we all know what we get: terrible produce, limited fresh and/or organic options, and a less than sanitary shopping experience.

– Ok, what about the other direction?  Safeway would take 29 minutes to walk a mile and a half up Foster and down Powell.  Not terrible, but downright bad when compared to the options listed above.

To be clear, PDC is not to blame for lacking grocery options.  As far as I know, the only land they own on the western stretch of Foster is at 72nd—the future site of the Portland Mercado.  And in their defense, they can’t magically produce interested grocers to move onto land they don’t own.  (They also get credit for assisting property and business owners with storefront improvements all along the Foster corridor and in Lents.)

But what about Lents?  PDC owns land (a lot) there.  Where’s the incentive to lure a healthy grocer?

In many ways, the market dictates what neighborhoods draw in certain businesses.  I can’t argue with that, nor can I say it’s necessarily wrong.  But if the city is in the business of improving neighborhoods, providing equal access to healthy foods, and developing underserved parts of town, I suppose there are better places to invest a couple million bucks.

How about this for a compromise:

Let’s assume the PDC is not favoring some neighborhoods at the expense of others.  Then, let’s now assume the owner of a grocery store does not want to move to Foster despite PDC’s pleading.  Fine.  But let’s also go with the assumption that PDC has $2 million to invest in creating healthier neighborhoods with good access to food/groceries.  The solution:  improve what we do have.  Surely Fred Meyer could be tempted to renovate, improve their offerings, and cater more to the community if someone waived a couple million dollars in their face.

Or $2 million in subsidies.

How do you all feel about the grocery options in the neighborhood?

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16 Responses to Wait, what? PDC to subsidize a grocery store on Alberta?

  1. Well said, Jeff. Seriously.

  2. Sarah says:

    Want to hear something else crazy?? I have heard a rumor (from a business owner) that the Green Zebra on Woodstock has fallen through because…wait for it…there’s going to be a New Seasons in the empty building across the street from the SAFEWAY on Woodstock! Wonder if you have some connections that confirm or deny either part of this rumor.

  3. brian says:

    I heard the same thing regarding the new seasons on Woodstock.

  4. Tucker says:

    Thanks for all the support your giving to the Foster area! Great blog! I couldn’t agree more, we need a grocery store!

  5. noelle says:

    UGH!
    so maybe green zebra could move into the old sav-a-lot?

    • jesse says:

      Don’t know if this is news, but noticed green zebra signs on the old thrift-store building at Division and 52nd; across the street from North bar.

  6. Jess says:

    I would be pretty happy with a Green Zebra *or* a New Seasons on Woodstock! Either way it’s finally something within a range I sometimes walk. But I wish I had a way to “snopes” these rumors. I had heard there was a McMenamins going in on Woodstock across from Safeway- in the spot that had the former beauty supply store- is that the same space?

    I worry nothing good will consider the old Save-a-lot spot while the saddest Dollar Store ever remains next door. I haven’t been there in a while but I recall it was carpeted and dingy. You would think a big business like the Dollar Store would hold its locations to a certain standard and spruce it up a little.

  7. Pingback: Happy Weekend, FoPo! |

  8. Matthew Kaiel says:

    Maybe PDC should work out a deal on this near acre parcel on SE 73rd and Foster. Here’s the shortened link to Portlandmaps: http://goo.gl/swv1C5

    Although, New Seasons is good news, it still doesn’t add a grocery between 39th and 82nd. I would consider that more of a food dessert than Nopo.

  9. Unless I’m reading the map wrong, I think that’s the lot where the Portland Mercado will be setting up shop.

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