As the former mayor of Camden, I was appalled to read inaccurate stories regarding provisions in the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) that some claim are responsible for the city remaining a food desert. The reasons Camden lacks a supermarket today are varied, but none of them are tied to any provisions in the EOA. I tried relentlessly both before and after the passage of the EOA to provide residents with access to fresh food.
More than five years before the bill was signed into law in 2013, Grapevine Development proposed a massive residential and retail development on Haddon Avenue in Camden, which would have included a supermarket. The proposed grocery store was planned long before the developer could ever have known about potential tax incentives under the EOA.
Unfortunately, the financing for this project never came through and plans for it were abandoned.
Separately, in March of 2013, the Ravitz family announced it was planning to bring a ShopRite to Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden. This was more than six months before passage of the EOA and at least a month before any amendments related to bringing a grocery store to Camden were introduced.
Unfortunately, Wakefern Food Corporation, the parent company of both proposed supermarkets, rejected the development plans. The reason that Camden remains a food desert today is because market forces have prevented a supermarket from being located here. Clearly, Wakefern did not feel that Camden was a good location for its grocery stores, regardless of whether the sites would have benefitted from tax incentives.
It is unconscionable that Camden residents still do not have access to a supermarket, but the EOA is not the reason why. In fact, it is because of the tax incentive program that Camden is seeing a massive revitalization, one that will hopefully lead to a major supermarket chain deciding that it is in its financial interest to locate here. The city and our legislators did everything possible both during my tenure and after to provide the climate necessary for Wakefern or someone else to come here and provide our residents with access to fresh, affordable food.
The truth is that market forces, not politicians, dictated the outcome of both Camden supermarket proposals. The Fresh Grocer that could allegedly have come to Camden failed to open not because a competing supermarket would have qualified for tax credits. It failed to open because the rest of the development, of which it would have been a small part, was never built, despite the developer’s announcement years before the EOA’s passage that it would be.
No one should apologize for supporting legislation that would have incentivized a grocery store chain to locate in Camden. Years before the EOA became law, the city had already learned a painful lesson when Fresh Grocer abandoned its plans to open as part of a shelved development plan. Wakefern’s decision to prevent Shoprite from opening in Camden, despite offered tax incentives, was yet another disappointment. But what is equally disappointing is the finger pointing at those who worked tirelessly to end Camden’s status as New Jersey’s densest food desert.
I would have loved nothing more than to open a Fresh Grocer or a Shoprite or any other supermarket while I was mayor. As a private citizen, I will continue to do everything I can to bring a grocery store here. But our job becomes more difficult when our motives are questioned by those who either misunderstand or misrepresent the reasons why Camden remains a food desert today.
(Dana L. Redd is an American Democratic politician who served as the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey from 2010 to 2018. Redd served in the New Jersey Senate from January 8, 2008, to January 5, 2010, representing the 5th Legislative District. Wikipedia)