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November 23rd, 2011 HANNAH HOFFMAN | Multnomah County
 

Market of No Choice

PDC looks at a new, high-end grocery downtown, far from where the city needs one most.

news3_fooddesertIMAGE: WW Photo Illustration

More than 17,500 people in Portland don’t have easy access to supermarkets or full-service grocery stores—a problem city officials say they want to fix.

Many of their neighborhoods are in North and East Portland. Some—Lents, for example—are in urban-renewal areas, where the Portland Development Commission could help subsidize new stores.

PDC officials say they’re working to bring grocery retailers to those areas.

But records show PDC’s most recent focus is on a new store far from the city’s areas of greatest need.

PDC has just released a study that calls for a new high-end grocery store near Portland State University—11 blocks from the Museum Place Safeway, built with public subsidies less than a decade ago.

The study didn’t consider sites in any of the city’s “food deserts,” defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as concentrations of low-income residents living a mile or more from a large grocery store. It instead looked at the PSU site, two at South Waterfront, one at Southeast 10th Avenue and Belmont Street.

PDC spokeswoman Anne Mangan says her agency paid for the $18,700 study because it had heard from downtown residents unhappy with their choice of grocery stores.

“Consumer demand, community demand—that’s what prompted the analysis,” she says.

Nick Christensen, president of the Lents Neighborhood Association, says he’s frustrated the PDC hasn’t shown more progress in helping on food access issues outside of downtown.    

“The folks of Lents and the folks of East Portland want to have the same opportunities as the rest of the city,” he says. “It’s frustrating to see more and more resources going into already developed areas.”  

John Jackley, PDC’s director of business and social equity, says the city—despite doing the study—has no plans to help build a grocery store near PSU.   

Jackley says PDC is trying to help other parts of the city: Earlier this year, the agency invited grocery retailers to propose projects in underserved areas. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Barbur World Foods and a variety of others responded in May.   

PDC officials are still talking to the companies. Jackley says PDC officials have no specific sites in mind, nor plans or deadlines to help build grocery stores in underserved areas, but the agency could announce specifics soon.   

“This is an opportunity to address a really pressing human need,” he says.

Meanwhile, records show, the recent PDC study calls for a new grocery store at Southwest 4th Avenue and Harrison Street, where the city owns property. Seattle consulting firm Marketek Inc. found the demographics ideal for a New Seasons or Market of Choice. A Walmart, the study says, wasn’t “a top choice or match for the highly educated population base.”

David McIntyre, vice chairman of the Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council, a citizens’ advisory board, says he didn’t know PDC was studying a new grocery downtown.

He says he’s glad PDC says it’s concerned about other parts of the city.

When it comes to access to food, McIntyre, says, “This is an issue everywhere, but Portland can be a bit segregated.”

 
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