By Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs
Andy Khullar promised the residents of Bronzeville a full-service grocery store, and a full-service grocery store is what residents should get.
Our community is just as deserving of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat (which Dollar Tree doesn’t provide) as any other community.
Ever since the “Coming Soon” signs went up on the former Walgreens building at North Ave. and Martin Luther King Dr . , many residents have asked me, “A Dollar Tree in Bronzeville? Really?” This is the area that many consider to be the gateway into Bronzeville, Milwaukee ‘s African-American cultural, arts and entertainment district.
So how did we get here? More than a year and a half ago, Anup “Andy” Khullar, the current owner of the building at 2303 N. Martin Luther King Dr. , presented a plan to create MLK Supermarket, a full-service grocery store. He initially wanted a liquor license, but when his application was held at committee to allow him an opportunity to meet with objecting neighbors, he decided to purchase the building and move forward with a grocery store and no liquor license.
Khullar received nearly $400,000 in low-interest loans from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation for an owneroccupied grocery store. But in violation of that agreement, Khullar decided to lease the space to Dollar Tree instead of providing the full-service grocery store he promised the community. Unfortunately, the space is zoned commercial and does not require any special approvals.
However, once an occupancy permit is granted, MEDC does have the option of demanding immediate repayment of the outstanding loan and foreclosing upon the building. Or, they can devise an accelerated loan repayment plan at a higher interest rate. The choice is up to MEDC.
Approximately three weeks ago, I met with Andy and shared my frustrations about this bait and switch. I also hosted a public meeting in which neighbors came out strongly against this Dollar Tree location and its potential negative impact on this neighborhood.
I recognize there are some residents who yearn for the convenience of a Dollar Tree in their backyard or believe any development is good development, but there are several neighborhood issues at play here as well. Getting access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the midst of a massive food desert, in an area with tremendous health disparities, is critical. The quality and quantity of food that Dollar Tree provides is a far cry from that of a full-service grocery store.
This location would impact some of Milwaukee ‘s most historic neighborhoods, including Harambee, Halyard Park and Brewers Hill. Most Dollar Tree locations in Milwaukee are housed in strip malls on main thoroughfares with an abundance of parking in front. The MLK Dr. and North Ave. location offers no parking lot in front, and is extremely close to neighbors. Residents would be exposed directly to the potential negative effects that this type of retail establishment could bring, including loitering, littering, thefts, robberies and other crimes and nuisances. These residents live in a police district that is already strained, currently seeing 25 percent of the city’s violent crimes. And beyond that lack of appropriate parking, there is also the likely increase in traffic issues that residents would experience on MLK Dr .
As for the argument that this development would create jobs, grocery stores provide jobs too. And if we are going to use a single cent of public funding to encourage and support jobs, the attempt should be made for those jobs to be family-supporting.
Ultimately, consumers will decide with their dollars what they want in their community. I, for one, believe that the health, welfare and safety of those whom I represent are worth fighting for. I join with Bronzeville area neighbors in opposition to a Dollar Tree at this location.
Interested neighbors do have the ability to testify about the proposed Dollar Tree’s food license at the Milwaukee Common Council Licenses Committee meeting scheduled for June 13, 2013. It will be held in City Hall Room 301-B.
Regardless of what happens with Dollar Tree, we will continue to fight for a Bronzeville we can all be proud of for generations to come.