On Wednesday, the City Council will vote on whether to provide a loan of $550,000 to Downtown’s only grocery store — Urban Market — to keep the store open. Private investors would match that amount.
So why should the city subsidize this business? Four reasons.
First, in 2001 the city REQUIRED that the developer who renovated the Interurban Building put in a grocery store in order to get historic tax abatements to rehab the vacant, dirty building. That’s right. The developer didn’t come up with the grocery store idea, the City did. The City knew exactly how many apartments and condos were going to be built over the next few years, what the surrounding population would be to support the market, and knew that it would be hard for the grocery store to scrape by. But the City saw the grocery store as a necessary amenity to lure residents to Downtown. Now that the City required this significant investment, it would be wrong to shrug and say, “Oops, sorry it didn’t work out.”
Second, Downtown business leaders and developers are stepping up and putting in money of their own. They understand the Market is a huge draw for new residents, and an important amenity for those already there. Losing the Market could impair developers’ ability to sell units. They have seen the population growth expected for Downtown over the next couple of years, recognize that it will likely be able to sustain the market in two years, and they’re willing to make that investment. If the private sector steps up and believes that this project is indispensable to Downtown, the City should step up as well, considering we’re the ones who mandated it.
Third, if Dallas is going to meet its goal of tripling the population of Downtown over the next several years, the City MUST support “meat and potatoes” businesses in Downtown. It’s the little things, like grocery stores, that help transform a group of city blocks into a neighborhood. The Council’s Economic Development Committee has requested that city staff focus less on high-end, esoteric shops in Downtown as it has done in the past, and more on residential necessities like drycleaners, grocery stores, and other neighborhood shops. Time and time again, residents tell me how important the Market is to their experience of living Downtown, and we need to support one of the pioneering stores at this crucial time.
Fourth, the Market opened to great fanfare. It was to be a harbinger of great things to come for Downtown Dallas. Letting it close now would send a signal that our Downtown is stumbling.
As more residents populate Downtown in the next two years, they’ll bring their dollars with them and help make the Market self-sustaining. It’s also important to keep in mind that the City and the private investor group will have the authority to approve and oversee the Market’s operator, will have financial oversight, and will reevaluate the Market’s financials in a year to make sure we’re on track. If not, we won’t continue to financially support the Market, and will have only invested $225,000.
A strong, vibrant Downtown is the key to a strong, vibrant city. Our Downtown is at a critical stage in its infancy. It’s still a toddler struggling to stand on its own, and there will be times when we have to intervene to support it. Now is one of those times. For a small investment, we can keep the doors open for this important Downtown amenity that has become a symbol of Downtown revitalization.