Councilors representing Northwest Jacksonville convened Thursday to discuss legislation that would help to alleviate spreading food desert conditions.
Legislation will head to committees soon to address at least one of those needs. 2018-195 will, if passed, approve encumbering $3 million from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund to recruit grocers to move into the area, which is about to see two grocery stores close.
The money would be earmarked for food desert remediation, said Councilwoman Katrina Brown.
Bill sponsor Reggie Brown noted that food deserts are a burgeoning concern locally.
No more than 25 percent of the total project cost can come from fund dollars, asserted a city lawyer.
A representative of the health department noted, regarding demographics of the census tracts where the two grocery stories are about to close [300 Dunn Ave. and 1012 Edgewood Ave W], that “negative health indicators” are already high in both tracts.
Councilman Brown noted that in one tract, 65 percent of children live in poverty.
“This should not be ignored,” Councilman Brown said.
Councilman Sam Newby noted the high correlation between food deserts and infant mortality, with 32208, 32209, and 32210 having food deserts and infant mortality rates that are among the highest in the city.
Caution flags were flown also.
Kirk Wendland of Jacksonville’s Office of Economic Development urged that the consultant work with OED to figure out a way forward. And that there be a delimitation of acceptable locations within NW Jacksonville for a grocery.
Councilman Danny Becton, who worked for Winn-Dixie for decades, urged caution, saying “there’s an inherent reason [the groceries] aren’t there to start with.”
“We have to understand there are reasons these [grocery stores] are going away,” Becton said of these “high volume, low margin operations.”
“At the core, a store has to make money,” Becton said.
Councilwoman Brown asserted that “smaller operations” do well in Northwest Jacksonville, such as “independent operators,” some of which may not be in the Jacksonville market yet.
“I believe there’s going to be a shift,” Councilwoman Brown said.