The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday that may get grocers to move into the city’s Northwest quadrant to curb so-called food deserts.
A food desert is any urban area in which at least 33 percent of the residents live a mile or more from a grocery store, according to Duval County Medical Society President Sunil Joshi.
“Jacksonville itself has about 42 deserts and approximately 40% of them are in the Northwest Quadrant,” he said.
The Duval County Medical Society has been pushing the measure, which creates an incentives-program to attract supermarket developers.
Joshi said the bill’s goal is not only to give people access to healthy food, but also to potentially improve the entire area.
“The incentive package hopefully will be one that will not only include incentivizing the grocer to come into the area, but also incentivizing the grocer to hire people from the neighborhood to work there, provide health insurance, and in some way improve the infrastructure of the area,” he said.
The legislation will use $3 million from the Office of Economic Development set aside last year by the City Council to spur economic development in Northwest Jacksonville.
The money will offset some of the costs associated with things like the initial buildout or buying land. The idea is to mitigate some of the economic risk potential grocers would face by opening in the area.
"If we can incentivize grocers the same way that we incentivize businesses to come to downtown, so that we can ensure they're successful in the earlier stages, then they may be able to have a sustainable impact," said Joshi.
Two City Council committees recommended the bill's approval.