The Tulsa Development Authority on Thursday agreed to examine supporting a proposed north Tulsa grocery store by releasing up to $1.5 million from a tax increment financing district.
Known as Project Oasis, the planned $5 million store at 1717 N. Peoria Ave. is a public-private collaboration designed to end food deserts in Tulsa’s most distressed communities. In Tulsa’s District 1, which encompasses most of north Tulsa, 93% of the people, or nearly 42,000, lack access within a mile radius to affordable fresh food, said Rose Washington, executive director of the Tulsa Economic Development Corp. (TEDC).
“Across the country, cities have struggled with finding ways to bring affordable, quality and accessible groceries to communities, particularly in food deserts,” Washington said at the meeting. “We have been working on food desert elimination for several years, and we’ve learned quite a bit as we’ve attempted to execute on different strategies.”
TEDC is about two weeks away from obtaining a building permit for the 16,450-square-foot store, which will be operated by Eco Alliance Group, LLC, a member grocer of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Washington said. KKT Architects is leading the design team, and Nabholz is the construction manager.
TEDC already has been awarded a $1.5 million federal grant through the city of Tulsa to build the store.
TIFs subsidize companies by refunding or diverting a portion of their taxes to help finance development in an area.
Formed in 2002, the North Peoria TIF expired in June 2017. Shortly before it expired, the TDA voted to extend the boundaries of the TIF to mitigate infrastructure costs for the grocery store.
The expansion was from the current northern boundary of Apache Street to 36th Street North along the right-of-way on Peoria Avenue.
In December, cash available to spend in the TIF totaled $3,859,989, said Kian Kamas, the city’s chief of economic development. But that number could be lowered by $1 million by a redevelopment project already in the works, she said.
In considering potential TIF funding, which is guided by strict legal language, TDA Commissioner Steve Mitchell said the board wanted to make sure the store’s manager was set up for success and had adequate capital for operation.
“In my day job, I’m an investor,” he said. “I’ve never made an investment that I didn’t love the day I made it. They haven’t all worked out.
“But the point is, there’s not anybody that understands the situation in this city that doesn’t want this to be successful. But at the same time, hope isn’t a strategy. And at the end of the day, if it doesn’t work, $1.5 million is gone. We don’t get it back.”
TEDC board member Casey Stowe told commissioners that a grocery store owned by a nonprofit in a food desert is the “definition of a public good.”
Washington added that the TEDC has done its homework and was eager to get the project out of the ground.
“We’re a lender first at TEDC,” she said. “So when we vetted the operator, we vetted them financially and their capacity to come in with all of the requirements to successfully operate a grocery store at that site.”