Atlanta wants advice: How can it attract more fresh grocery options?

City to poll developers and grocery operators on ways to increase access to healthy foods
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens posed with a Publix employee inside the newly opened grocery store in Summerhill on June 21, 2023.

Credit: Photos courtesy Brandon Amato on behalf of Carter

Credit: Photos courtesy Brandon Amato on behalf of Carter

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens posed with a Publix employee inside the newly opened grocery store in Summerhill on June 21, 2023.

Atlanta officials are hungry for guidance on how to expand the city’s roster of affordable grocery stores and healthy food options, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, issued a request for information Monday seeking input from developers and grocery operators on food access. The agency is hoping the advice will inform the city’s efforts to attract supermarkets to in-need areas, bolster existing neighborhood corner stores and spur innovative programs to increase fresh food availability.

“All residents deserve to live close to healthy food options, a goal we are committed to accomplishing with our public and private partners,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said in a news release.

Food disparity and a lack of grocery options have been issues Atlanta has been trying to address in recent years. In 2015, a little more than half of city residents lived within a half-mile of a fresh food retailer. That increased to roughly 75% by 2020, and the Dickens administration aims to increase it to 85% by 2025.

This initiative targets areas that the U.S. Department of Agriculture deems “Low Income, Low Access Communities,” which are sometimes called food deserts. To meet the USDA’s food desert definition in an urban area, at least 500 people or a third of the local population must live more than a mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter or large grocery store.

Invest Atlanta identified multiple commercial corridors and neighborhoods in need of fresh food options. Those include downtown Atlanta, Grove Park, Pittsburgh, Thomasville Heights and the former Bowen Homes public housing site.

The Publix on Hank Aaron Drive in Summerhill served as a recent reminder that several Atlanta neighborhoods are just one closed store away from reverting into a food desert. Within four months of opening last year, the Publix had to be closed for a week after a crane truck crashed through the top level of the store’s connected parking deck.

Workers put up fences around the parking deck that collapsed at the Summerhill Publix on Saturday, Sep. 2, 2023,  (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Invest Atlanta also laid out the city’s incentives that could be used to attract grocery investment, including cash grants through an Economic Opportunity Fund and the city’s various tax allocation districts. Invest Atlanta and the Development Authority of Fulton County can also offer property tax breaks to developers.

Qualified developers and grocers have until 5 p.m. Feb. 23 to submit their feedback and advice to Invest Atlanta. More information is available at investatlanta.com/about-us/invest-atlanta-rfps.

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