After months of unsuccessfully trying to finalize plans with Welton Enterprises to develop a city-owned property on South Park Street that could provide a grocery store for the area, city officials have released a new request for proposals, opening up the site to other potential developers.
The new RFP is “streamlined to focus on timely grocery access,” according to a Thursday statement from Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway's office. The move comes after weeks of widespread neighborhood concerns about the importance of keeping a grocery store in the area.
“The RFP has been modified and updated to reflect both the knowledge gained from the first RFP process, as well as to address specific concerns that the community brought forward regarding the importance of a grocery store to serve the neighborhood and greater South Park Street area,” said Dan Rolfs, community development project manager for the city.
The original RFP listed multiple goals for a project on the site, like connecting Cedar Street to Fish Hatchery Road, increasing the area's tax base, developing workforce housing and keeping a grocery store in the area.
The new RFP slims this down to just three “minimum requirements”:
- Construct a grocery store.
- Extend Cedar Street.
- Meet the recommendations of related neighborhood and city plans.
It notes that housing, including affordable housing, office or retail space would be a welcome addition to the site, but are not a requirement.
The original RPF called on developers, but the new edition allows developers or grocers to submit their proposals.
It also gives the option for grocers or developers to purchase only part of the property from the city. In theory, Rolfs said, that means a grocer could just purchase the front portion of the site, as long as the plans still fulfilled RFP requirements, city plans and neighborhood needs.
The City Council will likely take up the new RFP at its May 14 meeting, Rolfs said, which would mean the RFP would be released by May 15. Developers or grocers have until Aug. 9 to respond, which would set up the City Council to approve a developer in October or November.
Taking into account the time for subsequent land use approvals and the possible construction of a Cedar Street extension, Rolfs said, actual construction on the site could begin in the summer or fall of 2020.
The city owns the 3.5-acre property at 1402 S. Park St., formerly the Truman Olson United States Army Reserve Center. The city released a request for proposals in early 2018 for adjacent property owners to develop the site, and called for a grocery store within the development.
A Pick ‘n Save store located next door at 1312 S. Park St. is the only full-service grocery store in the area. SSM Health plans to purchase that property from Welton Enterprises, which currently owns the site, and demolish the store in order to build a clinic.
Welton Enterprises responded to the first RFP and in March appeared before the city’s Truman Olson Selection Committee with a proposal calling for a 30,000 square-foot grocery store and a four-story, 52-unit housing complex.
But city staff wasn’t satisfied by parts of Welton’s plan, including the amount of city funds Welton requested. When SSM indicated earlier this year that it was planning to demolish the Pick ‘n Save this November or December, neighbors raised concerns that there would be a gap of time in the neighborhood without a full-service grocery store.
In April, the Truman Olson committee voted to reissue a request for proposals, inviting other developers to put forth their ideas, though it said it would continue to try to finalize a plan with Welton Enterprises before the new RFP is issued.
City officials have repeatedly said they will dedicate resources to provide food access to South Park Street residents should a grocery gap occur, while neighbors have fought hard to try to prevent a gap altogether.
The recent statement from the mayor's office emphasized that the city and SSM are working collaboratively, saying both parties will work to find solutions to fill a grocery store gap should one occur.
"The City is committed to healthy food access for South Madison residents and to working with SSM Health to enable their vital investment on South Park Street. We are focused on a collaborative process that will lead to a sustainable long-term solution," Rhodes-Conway said in the statement.
Ald. Tag Evers, District 13, said the statement was a testament to the neighborhood’s advocacy efforts.
“I think what we’re seeing here is an indication of the power and efficacy of neighborhood involvement and concurrently an example of corporate responsibility,” said Evers. “SSM has shown a willingness to cooperate, listening to those neighborhood concerns.”
SSM representatives have not explicitly said they will delay construction plans, but have said pausing is a possibility. Damond Boatwright, SSM Health regional president of operations, said in a statement that the firm is taking time to “carefully consider all alternatives, up to and including the timing and location of our replacement clinic project.”
“We must be certain that the resulting decision is one that carefully balances the needs of SSM Health to deliver exceptional health care services, with the incredibly important needs of the community in the short and long term,” he said.
The new RFP states potential developers could partner with SSM Health, as SSM is “willing to explore the provision of various health-related services within or next to the grocery store in order to create a regularly frequented community hub.”
That could include services like a walk-in retail health clinic, nutritionist-provided educational programs or cooking demonstrations, and nonprofit partnerships.