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South Madison community concerned about potential grocery store gap

MADISON (WKOW) — Many across Madison struggle to put healthy food on their tables. For some it’s a matter of income, for others it’s about access. The city considers parts of Madison’s south side priority areas for food access improvement.

Later this year, the issue could worsen as the Pick n’ Save on South Park St. faces demolition and plans for a replacement store are still waiting for city approval. That could leave an indefinite gap of time where several south side neighborhoods would lose access to the only full-service supermarket for miles.

SSM Health plans to develop a new clinic on the Pick n’ Save site and hosted a public meeting Thursday evening to discuss the plans. In a crowded hall, dozens of neighbors from across the south side turned the discussion towards the issue of food access.

Maia Chen lives in Capital Heights, one of the neighborhoods served by the Park St. Pick n’ Save. She said she came to the meeting with one goal in mind.

“Hopefully SSM Health will push back their plans,” she said.

For Chen, it’s not just about convenience. She said she’s concerned a grocery store gap could make it nearly impossible for some members of the community to get access to healthy, fresh food, particularly those without access to transportation.

“My grandmother, lives in the neighborhood,” she said. “She does not have a car so she uses the grocery store.”

According Melissa Huggins, a principal with Urban Assets, the consulting firm on the clinic, further delays aren’t an option. The SSM Health Dean Clinic on Fish Hatchery has required too many repairs and outgrown its building.

With their current plan, Huggins said the new clinic would open in two to three years and they say they can’t push it further down the road.

“There’s a long-term commitment at SSM to make the clinic in the area, developing the clinic and we’ve got this issue,” Huggins said.

She said they’re planning to start construction before the end of the year, including a Pick n’ Save demolition as early as November.

“It has been a concern. It is a concern,” she said.

The natural replacement for the Pick n’ Save site is the Truman Olson lot just next door.

For more than a year, the city has been working with Welton to develop a 32,000 square foot grocery store as well as affordable and market rate apartments on that lot. Wednesday night, the city’s Truman Olson Selection Committee chose to reopen the lot to other proposals, while still giving Welton 90 days to work out a new deal.

A representative from Welton who was at the SSM Health meeting said the issues come down to financial concerns. Welton said the project has been costlier than anticipated and the city is offering less aid than Welton originally hoped for.

As for neighbors like Marianne Ewig, these delays are unacceptable.

“That [grocery store] maybe should be the first thing that goes up,” she said. “Before their clinic and all the other buildings.”

With no word on when that replacement project may break ground, SSM Health representatives said they want to offer solutions in the case of a grocery gap. They brought up things like shuttles to other stores, mobile food markets or greater reliance on the smaller ethnic grocery stores already within the neighborhood.

“Our hands aren’t completely tied,” Huggins said.

Chen said those solutions are no replacement for a neighborhood supermarket.

“It seems as though historically, it has not worked,” she said. “If we could avoid that as an option, that probably would be the best.”

Madison has worked to address food access for the past several years and food policy director George Reistad said they’re looking closely at the case on Park St.

“As the dust settles on that it gives city staff, myself included, a kind of road map on how we can address whatever issue may come,” he said.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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