North Charleston OK's deal to bring Piggly Wiggly to Neck-area 'food desert'

Piggly Wiggly (FILE)

North Charleston officials have voted in favor of an incentive plan designed to bring an oasis to a so-called “food desert” in the Neck area.

City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to give Mayor Keith Summey the authority to offer a $500,000 incentive package to Lowcountry Grocers, LLC.

In return for $500,000 over five years, the city hopes the grocer will build a Piggly Wiggly supermarket in the old Shipwatch Square shopping center at the corner of Rivers and McMillan avenues.

City officials say the USDA identified the area around Shipwatch Square as a food desert, so city leaders, including Summey, say they have been working for several years to attract a full service grocer to the area in hopes of correcting the problem.

"I have worked at this thing for so long," Summey said Thursday prior to the council meeting. "When I was a young man, there were five grocery stores in that area, and now it's classified as a food desert.

"Those people in that community deserve a right to have a full service grocery store that they can go to to provide provisions for themselves and their families, and we're not going to rest until it's an accomplished fact," Summey said.

North Charleston officials say in the proposal $100,000 per year is being offered to the grocer in order to alleviate startup costs and offset rent.

"They just want to make sure that they're going to be able to operate without a loss," Summey said of the deal being struck with Lowcountry Grocers. "Basically we're saying we will guarantee you that for the first five years."

Councilman Todd Olds pointed out prior to the vote Thursday that it's not a case of all give and no get with respect to the city's part of the deal.

"This money we're putting forward is not all, 100 percent, a contribution to this grocer," Olds said. "This city will retain monies back through sales tax revenues and business license fees, which in essence doesn't cost us half a million dollars, or $100,000 a year."

The proposal specifies that if the store opens, and ultimately closes before the 5-year deal is up, the grocer will have to pay the city back all the incentive money.

Having a grocery store at Shipwatch Square will move North Charleston forward in its efforts to revitalize The Neck area of Charleston and North Charleston.

It's part of a initiative called the “Partnership for Prosperity,” a master plan for redevelopment in The Neck area devised by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governements.

Germaine Jenkins, who operates a neighborhood farm and grocery called Fresh Future Farm, said the area is in dire need of a full-service grocery.

"There hasn't been a grocery store in this neighborhood for 11 years," Jenkins said Thursday. "If you don't have a car, traveling more than a mile is a big deal, especially if you're a senior."

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