By announcing that it would like to bring a grocery store back to Old Louisville, Spalding University leaders hope to spur conversations and find a solution to reverse the neighborhood’s food desert status.
However, it could be a tough sell, according to one real estate expert.
The university agreed to purchase 924 S. Second St., the site of a former Kroger grocery store, for $1.075 million, Insider Louisville first reported. The deal is expected to close in June pending a clean environmental site assessment, according to a Wednesday news release from Spalding.
University leaders are unsure of what the future holds for the 1.5-acre site, which includes the former grocery store building and parking lot, but say that they will look into bringing a grocery store back to Old Louisville, which hasn’t had a large grocery since Kroger left in January.
Kroger continues to run a shuttle for Old Louisville residents from the Second Street site to the Kroger on Goss Avenue, according to a spokesman for the company.
“Our mission statement is embedded in service and includes ‘meeting the needs of the times,’ which is a ‘close second’ to our core of educating students and preparing them for leadership and service,” Spalding president Tori Murden McClure said in the release. “Therefore, we will first seek to play a role in filling the void created by the departure of Kroger before embarking on potential future plans.”
Spalding must first figure out if that is even feasible, according to the release, which also notes that “no immediate plans exist should the Trustees find themselves unable to secure a grocery option.”
There already is an effort underway to bring a grocery store back to the former Winn-Dixie at Fourth and Oak streets in Old Louisville. The new property owner told Broken Sidewalk that he’s reached out to grocery companies but has not yet been successful.
One real estate expert told Insider that it was unlikely a grocery company would agree to open in the former Kroger without the potential for a long-term lease.
“That would be very difficult for a grocery company to do,” said Craig Collins, senior director of Commercial Kentucky. “You are not going to be able to create enough net returns.”
The building may need work, and a grocer would have to buy cashier registers, freezers and shelving, as well as invest in employees, he said, adding that margins are low in the grocery business.
“That’s hard to do, really hard to do,” he said.
Collins pointed to the Omni Hotels & Resorts plans to run its own grocery store at the Omni Louisville downtown as evidence that grocery companies aren’t gung-ho about downtown or surrounding urban neighborhoods.
“I don’t think you have groceries running over each other trying to get in that space,” he said, with the caveat that he was not involved in the negotiations and doesn’t have any inside knowledge. “If Whole Foods really wanted to be there, or Lucky’s, or any high-end grocery company, I would think Omni would rather stick to the hotel business. As an outsider looking in, that’s what that tells.”
West Louisville neighborhoods have long suffered from a dearth of groceries to accommodate the thousands who live in those neighborhoods. Two recent projects that would have helped bring more food options to West Louisville — the Walmart at 18th Street and Broadway and the food port at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard — have both been abandoned.
Insider asked Spalding spokesman Rick Barney via email if the university would consider letting a farmers market or other food alternative operate at the site, or if Spalding would be interested in serving as the landlord for a long-term grocery store tenants.
“We’re just wanting to do what we can to foster any talks and interested companies – no matter what the format may be,” Barney replied.
Spalding has made significant investments in the Old Louisville and Limerick neighborhoods, as well as an area south of Broadway, which some have coined the SoBro neighborhood. Currently, Spalding is moving forward with plans for $5.5 million in new athletic fields in Limerick.