A Whitewater official sees a “strong possibility” that the city could have a deal by the end of the year to bring a grocery store to Whitewater.
“It feels like we’re closer than ever,” said Dave Carlson, who has served as executive director of the Community Development Authority for almost two years. “I’m more optimistic about us putting together a deal than I have been since I’ve been here.”
He stressed there are no guarantees, but in an update filed ahead of the agency’s March 28 meeting, Carlson wrote about three “separate and distinct proposals” under consideration.
The proposals include a grocery store as a standalone project or as part of a multi-use project, he wrote.
Although Whitewater’s Walmart sells some groceries, the city has been without a major grocery store since December 2015, when Daniels Sentry Foods closed.
Two of the three proposals could involve city property at the roundabout on the east side. On top of those, two CDA members asked Carlson for information on the roundabout to share with a developer.
The other lead Carlson has is considering private property on the west side.
Carlson said he could not provide more details because of the ongoing nature of the discussions.
While it might appear to residents that nothing is happening, Carlson said there is “quite a bit of activity going on behind the scenes.”
He said he tries to balance the public’s interest in knowing without sharing too much, which could cause a prospect to back away from a deal.
“We know people have been clamoring for this. We want them to be patient,” he said. “What’s more important than just finding any store is finding the right store that’s going to be a good fit for this community.”
Carlson said recruiting a grocery store got easier after Whitewater last year was approved for two Economic Opportunity Zones under the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
He added that local incentives, as well as some potentially from the state, are also on the table. Specific amounts depend on the project.
Getting a grocery store has been top of mind for Carlson. He said he took a call from a developer who wanted to bring a restaurant to Whitewater. Carlson mentioned the grocery store, and now that is one of the top prospects the city has.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not trying to see what we can do to put this together,” he said. “And it’s my priority, really, at this point.”
Whitewater has channeled some of its desire for a store into a grocery cooperative, the Whitewater Grocery Co. The group reported March 18 on Facebook that it now has 551 owners. The group has said it needs 1,000 owners to start building.
The group’s enthusiasm has been a selling point for developers, Carlson said, showing how much Whitewater is interested in a grocery store.
Carlson said while it’s hard to know for sure, it’s possible for a grocery store and the co-op to coexist.
He said he’s encouraged by the group’s grassroots support.
Carlson said he sees himself as a “matchmaker,” trying to connect the right people to get the project done.
“I kind of relish challenges,” he said. “If it was easy, it would have happened already.
“I would love nothing better than to get this deal done tomorrow—not for me, but for all the people in Whitewater that want this.”