Aldermen weigh grocer incentives for Shaw’s lot

New Haven is considering offering a tax incentive to attract a large-scale grocer to the former Shaw’s lot on Whalley Avenue.

At the Board of Aldermen’s Community Development Committee meeting Wednesday evening, more than a dozen board and community members discussed ways the city can make the Dwight Place lot more attractive to a potential grocer in the future. The Greater Dwight Development Corporation has asked Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to reduce property taxes on the lot temporarily, said Linda Townsend-Maier, director of the development corporation, at the meeting.

“The city wants Shaw’s more than anything in the world,” said Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark.

If the city temporarily lowers the lot’s property taxes, the Greater Dwight Development Corporation, which owns the lot, would be able to lower a future grocer’s rent. Property taxes, insurances and maintenance are the lot’s three largest costs and determine how much the development corporation charges tenants, Townsend-Maier said. The group approached the mayor about the incentive a few weeks ago, she said, and he is waiting for the development organization to be further along in the process of finding a grocer before he officially agrees to the proposal. Clark said the earliest the tax reduction would go into effect would be for the 2011-’12 fiscal year.

Another challenge facing those trying to attract a grocer to the former Shaw’s lot is preconception that the surrounding neighborhood is a low-income area, said Doug Hausladen ’04, who has compiled data on New Haven’s demographic and economic makeup, which is being presented to possible grocers. Preliminary results, which were released at the end of March, showed that New Haven’s large student population is often overlooked as a prospective market.

Local grocers such as Edge of the Woods on Whalley Avenue and Ferrara’s on Grand Avenue have also been asked whether they are interested in expanding into the Shaw’s lot, said Clay Williams, who works for New Haven’s Office of Economic Development. They declined, he said, because expanding their operations so close to their first stores is unlikely to increase revenue and could harm business at their primary location.

Still, community leaders said the largest problem residents face is finding fresh produce. Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca, chair of the Community Development Committee, said he has received numerous phone calls over the last month from his constituents saying that they have been forced to shop at local corner stores to put food on the table every night. To help his constituents obtain quality produce, he said he will be reaching out to local church groups to help transport residents to grocery stores outside the city limits, he said, adding that he is also encouraging residents to register with Stop & Shop’s online grocery delivery service called Peapod.

Not all residents are satisfied with those solutions. Patricia Wallace, director of elderly services for New Haven’s Community Services Administration, said she has had numerous complaints from older members of the Dwight community who either do not own computers or do not know how to use them. She said for the most part, the elderly prefer to select their produce in person and often consider trips to the grocery store welcomed outings.

Moving forward, the Board of Aldermen can help secure a replacement grocer in two ways, Clark said: by providing leadership and information to their communities and by passing legislation that makes it easier and more attractive for a replacement grocer to move in.

“[Aldermen] are in an interesting position because as leaders there is both a lot and a limited amount of things they can do,” Clark said.

The community development organization is also considering applying for federal grants to fund the installation of a hydrogen power cell on the roof of the former Shaw’s building to give the space both environmentally friendly and technologically up-to-date appeal.

Townsend-Maier added that University Properties has been a vital resource in talks with SuperValu, the parent company of Shaw’s, and other companies that may be interested in moving into the lot.

University Properties director Abigail Rider did not respond to a request for comment.

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