During a contentious debate last week over handing $3 million to Costco for the retail giant to build a North Dallas store, opponents argued it would get built somewhere in Dallas with or without the money. They lost, but not before wringing a crucial concession. Costco gets its — actually, your — money, but the city will also do something about the lack of traditional grocery stores in southern Dallas, many parts of which are so-called food deserts.
Monday morning, city staff told the council's Economic Development committee what it was going to do. Give any big-time grocer willing to park a store in the southern sector $3 million also, just to be clear here, of your money. The city wants an established, traditional supermarket to take the cash and build a store that is more than 50,000 square feet. In other words, it doesn't want another Save-A-Lot. (Former Dallas City Council member Tennell Atkins fought tooth and nail to bring the discount retailer to his district, at a cost to the city of about $1.5 million.)
"If we're going to offer the $3 million north then we should really offer the same thing south," council member Casey Thomas said. "I'm really looking forward to [seeing] who responds. That's really the question. Who's going to respond now that we're putting real money on the table. What else is it going to take [to get a grocery store in southern Dallas] besides money?"
The cash is set to come from payments in lieu of taxes from the water department and tax breaks, which could actually go above and beyond the $3 million promised, Hammond Perot, assistant director in the Office of Economic Development, told the committee.
Perot said that what makes this plan different from previous efforts to drag a grocer to southern Dallas is that the plan has specific goals. It isn't just city staff prodding individual chains to come to the southern sector as it has in the past.
"The only thing that's really different is that this is a campaign with a specific task and identifying a specific need to be addressed. When we have typically done [grocery deals in the past] it's been through trade shows, industry groups and talking to the grocers directly," he said.
The plan was unanimously approved by the committee and will move to the full council at the end of June.
"We're going to do what we have to do to focus on the food deserts," council member Carolyn Arnold said. "We're not interested in any new Jack in the Box, Cracker Jack box type of stores. We want them to serve holistically the constituency.