The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve allocating $500,000 to a new “Healthy Food Initiative,” which officials said would go toward incentivizing new grocery stores to move into the city.
The creation of that fund is separate from the pending Healthy Food Ordinance, which would amend Birmingham’s zoning ordinance to increase healthy food options in the city’s food deserts, through measures such as limiting the expansion of dollar stores and loosening restrictions on grocers and farmers’ markets.
But the two will work together to attract new grocery stores to the area, said Josh Carpenter, the city’s director of innovation and economic opportunity. Carpenter said that the fund would be used for incentives to “provide a gateway for (grocers) who might have said, ‘I’m not going to expand into that market.’”
According to Mayor Randall Woodfin, at least three grocery chains have declined opening new stores in Birmingham. The Woodfin administration’s push to attract grocery stores to the area has been spurred by data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicating that 69% percent of Birmingham residents live in food deserts.
The incentives fund approved Tuesday will be used to offset opening costs for grocery stores, such as hiring employees and stocking stores, Carpenter said.
“You can’t hope and pray to get a grocery store these days,” he said. “To open up in a new market and a new area, the cost early on is really what prohibits people from starting (new grocery stores). What we wanted to do was create a pool of funds to demonstrate with the council and with our residents that we’re going to be as aggressive about recruiting grocery stores to Birmingham as we are about recruiting a 500-person tech company. It’s really important to us because if we don’t have that, then we don’t have the economic development in those areas.”
The city will also consider offering a revenue sharing plan as part of an overall development agreement, Carpenter said, which means that a portion of sales tax revenue generated by the store would be rebated to the grocer.