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Project Addresses Urban Supermarket Shortage

By Paul Tuthill

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-968585.mp3

Springfield, MA – An economic development group in Springfield Massachusetts has had discussions with a newly formed statewide task force that is trying to bring full service supermarkets to poor communities. Springfield is among several urban areas in Massachusetts where studies have found people don't have easy access to fresh, nutritious food WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports

DevelopSpringfield, a non profit corporation promoting business growth, has identified a seven acre parcel where it believes a 55 thousand square foot supermarket could be built in the heart of an inner city neighborhood that has been characterized as a food desert.
Nick Fyntrilakis, the chairman of DevelopSpringfield says the site, just off State Street, is being used primarily as a parking lot. Building a supermarket there would bring badly needed jobs to the distressed Mason Square Neighborhood..
The Massachusetts Grocery Access Task Force was created by health and human service advocates, and supermarket industry representatives earlier this year. It issued a report that said several urban areas in Massachusetts, including Springfield, have 30 percent fewer supermarkets per person than the national average. These same places have higher than average rates of nutrition related health problems, including obesity and diabetes. The supermarket industry has cited the high cost of acquiring land, as well as high crime rates, as impediments to building stores in urban centers
Fyntrilakis said they are looking at a program successfully pioneered in Philadelphia by a non profit called the Food Trust that uses public and private funding to set up low cost financing for supermarket developers.
Fyntrilakis briefed Massachusetts Lt Gov Timothy Murray about the supermarket project during a private meeting Thursday. Speaking later with WAMC News Murray lauded the objective..
Heath and human service advocates have described the Mason Square neighborhood as a food desert . A study by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts found nine percent of households reporting moderate to severe hunger and 19 percent being insecure when it comes to food sources. Zaida Govan of the Mason Square Health Task Force says a large supermarket would greatly improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.
Officials caution a supermarket development would be at least two years away. The Mason Square Health Task Force launched a pilot program last month to provide free shuttle bus trips between the neighborhood and an outlying supermarket.
Over 20 percent of the Mason Square residents don't own cars, according to the task force