040519-wsj-news-truman-olson (copy)

A vacant city-owned parcel on the South Side. 

It’s round two of the city’s attempt to find a developer to build a grocery store on its South Park Street property, and neighbors will get a chance to weigh in at a public listening session Tuesday.

The meeting, hosted by Alds. Tag Evers and Sheri Carter, is Tuesday, July 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Room 201 of the Madison Labor Temple, 1602 S. Park St.

“We're hoping for not just any grocery store, but a grocery store that is attendant to the concerns and the health needs and the lived experiences of the people on the south side,” Evers said.

The city released a request for proposals to build a new grocery store on its 3.5-acre property at 1402 S. Park St., formerly the Truman Olson United States Army Reserve Center.

Seven developers indicated initial interest in submitting an RFP response, Evers said, but he believes two have since dropped out. All developers were invited to Tuesday’s meeting, but are not required by the city to attend, said Dan Rolfs, community development project manager for the city. On Friday, Evers said he understood "maybe three" developers were coming to the event. 

The meeting will function as a “sort of a meet and greet,” Evers said, with developers introducing themselves, but not laying out detailed plans of their proposals, which will be in competition with each other. Evers thinks the meeting will be beneficial for both the neighborhood and developer.

“The idea is that we want to facilitate this relationship at an early stage, rather than say, ‘This is the grocery store the city has selected, hope you’re happy,’” Evers said.

Evers said it’s important to involve neighbors “early and often,” because neighborhoods sometimes feel that “by the time their opinion is being asked, it’s about more trivial things like the color of the singles or the finish on the countertops.”

“This is an opportunity for the neighborhood to talk more conceptually,” he said.

Evers has heard criticism from some who are frustrated that the public meeting will take place just about two weeks before the developer’s proposals are due to the city, which they worry may not be enough time to incorporate neighborhood input.

Evers admitted that the neighborhood involvement process “could always be improved,” but noted that there are continuing opportunities for developers to change their plans.

“My hope is that the development team will be desirous of this kind of input from the neighborhood … (and) will make several adjustments along the way,” Evers said.

Gailden Moore, chair of the NAACP’s food desert committee, wants to get an idea of what developers are proposing for the site at the meeting.

“If we walk away feeling that we could have any one of the developers that showed up at the meeting being capable of opening the store, building the store, it would be successful,” she said. “It would also be a success if out of this meeting we had continued solidarity in getting this accomplished.”

If few or no developers show up for the meeting, she said, it would still be “worthwhile, but we would be disappointed.”

Jesse Laz-Hirsch, a Bay Creek neighborhood resident who lives about two blocks from the Truman-Olson site, said he hopes to see strong neighborhood turnout at Tuesday’s meeting and a chance for those neighbors to provide their input.

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“The goal is to better engage the community so it can speak in a more unified voice with the city,” he said.

THE NEW RFP

The city released a request for proposals in early 2018 for adjacent property owners to develop the Truman-Olson site. The 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.

Welton Enterprises responded and offered 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. After working with Welton Enterprises for months, the city decided to re-start the RFP process, opening it up to other developers.

The new RFP slimmed down to just three “minimum requirements:” construct a grocery store, extend Cedar Street and 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. 

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 had planned to purchase that property and demolish the store in order to build a clinic, but has since dropped the plans

Developers or grocers have until Aug. 9 to respond, which would set up the City Council to approve a developer in October or November.

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