Plans for a proposed Bravo Supermarket in East Gainesville have hit a slowdown because of the transition between city managers and a desire by city leaders to proceed carefully.
One of the three partners working on the project dropped out, and another is expected to follow, Cynthia Curry, the interim city manager, said at a recent City Commission meeting.
“So that project right now is tentative and problematic,” said Curry, who assumed her position in November after Lee Feldman resigned as city manager.
Feldman had supported the project, and with the transition between him and Curry there has been some miscommunication, said Fred Washington, a real estate developer who has worked to solve food insecurity in Jacksonville and aims to do the same in East Gainesville.
The supermarket, which would be located at 2286 SE Hawthorne Road, would bring healthy food options to the community and aim to resolve East Gainesville food insecurity.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
Currently, community members must travel elsewhere in the city to shop at a grocery store, and some don’t have access to vehicles. The pandemic has also intensified the issue.
“At the end of the day, an East Gainesville supermarket would be hugely popular for folks, so I would definitely like to see this follow through,” City Commissioner David Arreola said.
However, while the city offered a $3.3 million loan in tax money to open the Bravo, Arreola and some community members are hesitant about how much the project would cost taxpayers.
“I understand that there’s a lot of debate about what kind of supermarket should be there – and how much it should cost,” Arreola said. “So, I am a little bit concerned about the price tag.”
He added: “When it comes to spending tax dollars, you don’t get a cheap do-over. … My hope, and the purpose for my support, is not just for the supermarket, but to really try to catalyze some private investment in that area by having an anchor supermarket there.”
Some community members view the development as gentrification, but Washington views it as an enhancement. Also, many residents are unsure about Bravo, with some of them pushing for a Publix or Hitchcock’s Market to fill the space instead.
Washington said he is talking with as many residents as he can, and hopes to work with the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce to survey how the community feels about the supermarket.
“I gave out my personal cell to the community, and told them they could call anytime they have a question,” Washington said.
The store would bring in about 30 jobs starting at $15 an hour, with East Gainesville residents getting priority. Small vendors would also operate inside the store, which would give additional chances for community involvement, Washington said.
The Bravo would be between a laundromat and a dollar store, and Washington wants to keep the tenants there, Arreola said. There will also be additional spaces in the plaza that Washington plans to rent to potential tenants, such as a credit union or heath facility.
“I’m also trying to line up additional monies that I’m bringing in, or we’re bringing in, in order to update the entire plaza,” Washington told the City Commission.
He also said Bravo has a long history of being a good neighbor.
“The track record Bravo has in communities, not just East Gainesville, but other communities
with different income levels is astounding,” Washington said.
He told the commission the deadline to close on the proposed plaza is Jan. 15. He said he got the landowner to push back the option once, but he cannot delay the decision any longer.
The commission signaled its intent to site a grocery store in East Gainesville soon regardless.
“We have all agreed to put $3 million to $5 million aside for a grocery store, period,” City Commissioner Reina Saco said. “That money exists. Because whether it be this one or another, we agreed to setting aside that money.”
The commission will make a “yes” or “no” decision on the Bravo supermarket on Jan. 6.