CHAMPAIGN — Nearly a year after being appointed to replace Aaron Ammons on the Urbana City Council with a promise to look into getting a grocery store for the city’s north end, Shirese Hursey still has unanswered questions on that goal.
“Basically, what I’ve been told regarding getting a full-service grocery or any industry is that you need to find a developer,” Hursey said. “If there’s nobody interested, it makes it more difficult.”
At the start of 2019, Hursey said her No. 1 issue was to bring a grocery store to the north end of Urbana. She said that when she was growing up in the area, there were two IGA grocery stores — one in Urbana and one in Champaign — but they’ve both been closed for at least 40 years.
Hursey said that although the city can lure developers to the table with incentives such as tax abatements, sales-tax exemptions or direct investment, it first has to convince a grocer to move into an area that most don’t feel is good enough for revenue.
“Short of me bringing in a grocery-store developer by the nape of the neck and saying ‘Develop,’ I don’t know I can be more assertive about this,” Hursey said.
Mayor Diane Marlin said the process can be challenging, including finding an appropriate location and getting the right incentives in place.
“We can reach out to potential developers,” Marlin said. But “the city can’t just build one. We would have to get someone who is interested in doing that.”
Marlin said she’s supportive of adding a grocery store and other commercial activity on the north end, as recent housing developments like Union Gardens, The Retreat, and the One Illinois North and South Student Apartments have been putting more students and young professionals in the area.
“When you look at Bradley Avenue, for example, there’s thousands of people living there now,” Marlin said. “I think there’s enough people to support different kinds of commercial activity. We would do whatever we could on our end to support our effort.”
Marlin also said some developers have explored options for a grocery store in the area, “but nothing is on the table quite yet,” she said.
Despite efforts so far, Hursey said she’s concerned that there has not been close access to nutritious food in the north end for decades.
“It shouldn’t take that long for anybody to be able to go to a local area and get food, but there’s nothing north of University Avenue,” Hursey said. “When you have the population that we have now, I don’t see why this area is not being served in that way.
“With all the apartment buildings within 200 yards of where I live, I don’t see how I’m asking too much that I want a quality grocery store in my area.”