CRDA Advances Atlantic City ShopRite Plan
ATLANTIC CITY (September 22, 2021) – While local officials heralded the beginning of the end of Atlantic City’s status as a “food desert,” some members of the public sought more assurances that an $18.7 million grocery store project would economically benefit the community.
On Tuesday, the Board of Directors of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority moved forward plans for a new ShopRite near the Atlantic City Convention Center, the first supermarket in the city in more than 15 years.
The board unanimously approved a site plan for the ShopRite, as well as spending $175,000 on professional services for the proposal, including environmental remediation at the site. Plans are to put millions more into the project in the coming years.
“It is exciting, and I think it has major implications for Atlantic City,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a member of the CRDA board. “I think it’s a strong signal that Atlantic City is back on its feet and moving forward.”
The CRDA and Village Supermarket Inc., a company that operates almost 40 ShopRite stores in the region, signed a memorandum of understanding on the project this year.
Plans call for a supermarket with more than 44,000 square feet of shopping space at 1801 Baltic Ave., on a property close to both the Atlantic City Convention Center and Tanger Outlets The Walk. Most of the property is currently a parking lot, bordered by Indiana and Ohio avenues, between Baltic Avenue and Bacharach Boulevard.
Several other CRDA board members also lauded the project Tuesday, describing it as the culmination of years of effort that will make life better in Atlantic City. But some members of the public told the board there has not been enough community involvement.
Speakers included James “Jimmy” Whitehead, who is challenging Democratic Mayor Marty Small Sr. as an independent candidate in the November election.
“This is a wonderful project to come to Atlantic City,” Whitehead said during the meeting, held via conference call. “However, a lot of the community would like to ask to put the brakes on a little.”
He suggested there has been little information about the proposal available to the Black, Hispanic and Bangladeshi communities in the city while the CRDA worked out the details.
“I think this needs more time for the community to have more input,” Whitehead said.
The comments drew an angry response from Small, who also serves as a member of the CRDA board. He said there were multiple town hall meetings held in several neighborhoods to discuss the plan and gain input from residents.
He said the CRDA, the city and the supermarket chain have worked for years to bring the project this far.
“For someone to get on this phone to pretend that he speaks for this community is extremely disingenuous,” Small said. “We had town hall meeting after town hall meeting on this. For him to come on here and try to play politics is extremely disturbing.”
Whitehead and other speakers called on the CRDA to establish an agreement to ensure that work on construction of the project and jobs in the completed supermarket go to Atlantic City residents and that minorities in the city would share the economic benefits.
Atlantic City resident Derek Brock said residents have not benefited from the CRDA’s investments, while large firms from outside the area have received big contracts.
“When are we going to see some of this money?” Brock said. “We’re not benefitting economically from these projects that are being brought into Atlantic City.”
Matt Doherty, CRDA’s executive director, said the contract for engineering work completed so far did go to an Atlantic City engineering firm.
Doherty said the total project will cost an estimated $18.7 million. There will be a public hearing on the funding element before a final board vote.
“It’s a significant investment in a project that will have a direct, positive impact on the people of Atlantic City,” he said.
Doherty said when construction is complete, the CRDA will own the land and the building. That will ensure a clean site and a business that is responsive to the community.
Oliver said getting a supermarket in place has been a priority for her and Gov. Phil Murphy, saying access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a public health issue. She said diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases have a considerable impact in communities where there is a majority Black and Latino population.
Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, who has publicly backed the supermarket proposal, said he has heard strong community support from local churches and neighborhood community associations.
“We have many reasons to approve this project today,” he said.
Shabazz and other supporters mentioned the quality of the supermarket chain planned for the project. He cited a constituent who said she was tired of only having generic-brand products available.
“The days of Atlantic City being a food desert and us having to buy Billy Bob’s Beans are over,” he said.
“As mayor, I couldn’t be happier that this is happening on my watch,” Small said. Plans are to break ground on the project in October.
Later at the meeting, Whitehead questioned whether there needed to be a groundbreaking ceremony.
“Can this move forward without making a show of it?” he said. “Is there a problem with doing it in November?”
“If we could put a shovel into the ground tomorrow, I would. I don’t see any reason why we would delay,” Doherty said.
“I would encourage us to move forward with all deliberate speed,” Shabazz said.