Slow and steady wins the race, right?
It’s proving true for the folks in Montbello, who are more than three quarters of the way to completing a long-time community goal: opening a full-service grocery store.
The Montbello Organizing Committee was recently awarded $1,455,000 through federal funding for their Montbello FreshLo project, a proposed seven-story building offering affordable housing, retail stores, a cultural hub and a much-needed grocery store.
The FreshLo Hub is a massive community-driven project that has been in the works since 2018. The Hub will take up the 1.39-acre lot at 12300 East Albrook Dr., which was purchased by the MOC for $600,000 in February 2020. The site used to be the Montbello Park-n-Ride, which closed in April 2016.
Project costs were initially estimated at $55 million, but with the pandemic increasing costs for supplies the new budget is around $70 million.
“Life gives you tests and turns and you have to roll with the punches,” said Donna Garnett, the executive director of MOC. “We hoped we’d be moving to ground breaking sometime in the second quarter of 2022 but when there are these significant changes, like the pandemic, it causes you to work harder, work smarter and take a little longer than you had in mind.”
The recent funding was a part of a $1.5 trillion omnibus federal spending deal that gave Colorado projects and programs over $170 million. Senator John Hickenlooper announced last year that he would be requesting funding for several projects, including the FreshLo Hub.
“It’s been a year in the process but things don’t happen overnight,” Garnett laughed. “Interest from our supporters and investors have not waned in the least. We have extremely high levels of support for this endeavor.”
A unique endeavor as Garnett puts it because the idea stemmed from community needs and those needs are being met through community action.
Garnett said the Hub addresses housing concerns, food security and entrepreneurial desires.
For housing, the Hub will have 97 units of one-, two-, and three-bedrooms at affordable rates. About 55 units will be for those making 30% to 60% of the area median income.
Through the retail spaces, Garnett said local businesses will be the priority, giving residents an opportunity to showcase their entrepreneurial skills. Garnett also said MOC is working on creating a 12-week entrepreneurial learning program, where the group will teach locals the ins and outs of creating, opening and maintaining a business.
“It’s about development without displacement and community wealth building,” Garnett said. “We’re looking at providing all types of training and entrepreneurial support to folks in our community… Our mission is to address issues that are identified by the community and that includes economic development.”
Another issue: a lack of a grocery store. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an area is considered a food desert when at least 500 people, or 33% of the area population, lives more than one mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store.
Garnett said most Montbello residents don’t have a car, which limits their options even more. According to city data and Garnett, residents have the option to shop at 7-Eleven or the Family Dollar on Peoria Street and East 47th Avenue. And that’s it. (There’s a Walmart located on Chambers Road and Gateway Avenue that’s technically considered Montbello but that’s on the outskirts of the neighborhood, leaning more toward Green Valley Ranch.)
“There are new grocery stores opening up but they’re in Green Valley Ranch. They’re by the aerotropolis. They’re in (Central Park). They’re not in Montbello,” Garnett said. “It’s imperative that we get a grocery store. Other fancy grocery stores are opening all around us but they’re not in our community and they’re not structured to really serve the needs of our very diverse and economically challenged community.”
Garnett said having a grocery store in the neighborhood was the driving force behind the FreshLo Hub. Besides needing access to food, she said residents need access to affordable food. She said the MOC is looking into grocery store models similar to Decatur Fresh in Sun Valley and Daily Table, a Massachusetts based, nonprofit grocery chain founded by Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s. Their model involves sourcing excess foods from local growers, manufacturers, and other suppliers.
FreshLo is slated to break ground toward the end of this year. In the meantime, Garnett said residents can reach out to the MOC if they’re interested in any job opportunities, including constructing the Hub.
Garnett said the MOC is continuing to raise funds for the project. MOC is launching a fundraising campaign toward the end of April to raise an additional $8 million. Besides the campaign, MOC will also be hosting farmers markets in the lot where the Hub is slated to be. Those will be starting in June.
“We’re not a rich developer,” Garnett said. “We’re a local community doing this, so it might take longer than usual. Our project is unique in that it’s community-led. How often is it that a community is driving the development rather than someone from the outside?”