The Gainesville City Commission approved a motion at its Thursday special meeting to enter the next phase of negotiations for providing $3.3 million of the funds necessary to build a grocery store in East Gainesville.
The motion passed on a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent. It allows the city attorney to begin finalizing the terms for the contract while the city manager simultaneously completes a due diligence evaluation of the applicant, Fred Washington, a real estate developer from Jacksonville.
An added amendment to the motion charged the city auditor to review the due diligence process conducted by the city manager’s office and create a memo of the process for the commission.
Once the city attorney writes the contract and the city manager finishes the due diligence, the commission will add the project to a future meeting or schedule a special meeting. Then, the commission can choose to finalize the project.
At the previous meeting, the commission took no further action on Washington’s proposal. Instead, the commission opened up a window for other applicants to submit proposals. While the process didn’t attract any new parties, other supermarkets were mentioned, primarily Hitchcock’s Markets.
Washington’s proposal would build a Bravo supermarket. Commissioner Duncan-Walker, who represents the area where the supermarket would be built, said some of her constituents had heard of the proposal and did not want a Bravo.
“I've been getting a lot of concern about the store itself, about the Bravo itself,” Duncan-Walker said. “There are people who, quite frankly, are not interested in Bravo in East Gainesville.”
Duncan-Walker said she was concerned about reports that another business wanted to move into the same plaza over a year ago but hadn’t heard back from the city.
City Manager Lee Feldman said he had cold called Hitchcock’s last year to gauge interest. He said the company had not returned his inquiries despite calls and emails.
In an interview after the meeting, Washington told Mainstreet Daily News he believes Bravo’s business model is the exact reason it would find success in the city. The store operates in a niche market, stocking shelves with specialty items that customers request and other stores lack.
Washington called the process grueling but said he was excited to continue working toward the next meeting and beyond.
“In the meantime, I’ll hopefully have lots of public interaction,” he said. “I’ll get to meet some of the people from East Gainesville, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Even though Thursday’s motion passed 6-1, Commissioners Gail Johnson and David Arreola also expressed reservations about how the process developed.
Johnson said community engagement was lacking, and Arreola expressed doubts that the 30-day invitation for more proposals was sufficient for potential investors.
Duncan-Walker asked if American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds could even be used to finance the loan or if another source was needed.
Feldman said the ARP should work but added that the city is still waiting for final guidance from the federal government.
The current proposal plans to use the Bravo supermarket as the anchor for the entire plaza. The city plans to install an RTS mobility hub on the site, and an additional 11,000 sq. ft. space is also available. Washington said he’s already had conversations about renting the space to a credit union or health facility.
UF Health recently added a regular mobile health clinic stop across the street from the plaza.
The full proposal is available on the City of Gainesville website.