Politicians can be excused for using hyperbole during election years, but a news release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn't necessarily paint Akron's Highland Square in a very positive light.
HUD Regional Administrator Antonio Riley announced federal approval of what the Plusquellic administration made public months ago -- in February, to put a date on it -- namely construction of a grocery store for the Highland Square neighborhood. In this case, it's a $3.8 million loan guarantee to help make sure the Mustard Seed Market project gets built. The release also notes the project will be part of a "new retail district, including stores and a library."
That last line might come as a surprise to folks who've lived in the neighborhood to learn the retail stores and library located in Highland Square are new. In the case of the Highland Square library location, it's been a haven for book lovers since at least 1956, when it was known as the West Hill Library. Even more surprising must be HUD's definition of "new" since the renovated Highland Square library, in it's current configuration, has been open for business since 2007.
There's even nice pictures at left, complete with Mayor Plusquellic using a big pair of scissors to help cut the ribbon. One of the photos in the collection found on the Akron Summit County Public Library's website story of the renovated library opening even includes Summit County Executive Russ Pry and Council President Marco Sommerville in the photo.
Pretty good for "new."
Then there's the line about being a "food desert."
Riley says this part of the city is more like the Sahara when it comes to getting fresh food, something grocery stores do. While neighborhood activists have lobbied hard -- and City officials have made it a high priority -- to see that a grocery store in some fashion is part of the retail landscape, one can hardly use the "desert" description.
The Acme store is 1.94 miles -- a five minute drive
The West Point Market is is 1.79 miles.
Henry's Acme on South Hawkins is 3.67 miles.
Oh, and the Walgreen's in Highland Square -- which sells some grocery items -- clocks in at "just across the street" from the "new" Highland Square Library.
The online resource Dictionary.com defines desert, in part, as "...any area in which few forms of life can exist because of lack of water, permanent frost, or absence of soil." That "few forms of life" must come as a surprise to Mary Coyle's, the Highland Theater, Aladdin's, Angel Falls Coffee, and Chipotle to name a few. Let's not even mention the various bars and nightlife the Highland Square neighborhood is able to offer in the middle of their food desert.
Lest you take this as re-opening the discussion on whether federal, state or city money should be used to build a grocery store, or support establishment of any other business for that matter. That issue is purely up to the citizens of Highland Square and their elected representatives, and that field is already well-plowed. But seeing one of the more vibrant areas of Akron, one frequently held up as an example of our cultural heritage and sophistication, described as a "food desert" is just a tad over the top.
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(U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - news release) U.S. Housing and Urban Development Midwest Regional Administrator Antonio R. Riley announced today that HUD is approving a $3.8 million loan guarantee to the City of Akron to finance development of the Highland Square Grocery Store Project. The grocery store, which will be leased by locally owned grocery store chain Mustard Seed Market, will be part of a new retail district including stores and a library.
"This part of Akron has been a food desert since 2002. A grocery store will provide fresh food at reasonable prices to benefit the health and quality of life for area residents while also creating approximately 57 jobs -- truly a win-win situation for Akron,” said Riley.
HUD’s loan guarantee has leveraged more than $3 million federal, city and private funds. Currently developed businesses in Highland Square are rented by the city and producing income to help finance the grocery store.
HUD’s Section 108 Loan Guarantee Assistance Program enables local governments to borrow money from private investors at reduced interest rates to promote economic development, stimulate job growth and improve public facilities. Such public investment is often needed to inspire private contributions, to provide seed money, or to simply boost confidence that many private firms and individuals need to invest in distressed areas. It allows them to transform a small portion of their CDBG funds into federally guaranteed loans large enough to pursue physical and economic revitalization projects that can renew entire neighborhoods.