Fort Wayne officials and Parkview representatives gathered March 8 to mark the ceremonial beginning of construction on a grocery store to serve southeast Fort Wayne.
The city and Parkview Regional Medical Center and affiliates are partnering to open Pontiac Street Market to supply affordable, healthful food to a neighborhood — often described as a “food desert” — that has no supermarkets nearby. A grand opening is projected for this fall.
Neighborhood resident Sondra Brooks joined about 100 people packing 918 E. Pontiac St. to study architects’ depictions of the completed market and to celebrate what it means to her community.
“This is a market that is going to be available to those who live here so they don’t have to travel so far, especially to get healthier food at a reasonable price,” she told a reporter. “I’m supportive of it, always have been. This is my neighborhood; I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. So I’m certainly excited about any new developments or improvements, especially in the south side of town.”
She said she shops at the larger supermarkets outside her neighborhood. “They’re great, I’m not putting them down,” she said. “But the people who live in this area who have no transportation have to get a ride or take a couple of buses. Certainly, it’s too far to walk.”
“Another advantage is not having to go to some of the smaller stores, especially some of those that are in service stations or gas stations where the costs are especially high. A dollar twenty-five for one banana is ridiculous.”
That theme was stressed by City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-6th, one of the speakers in the brief remarks before ceremonial hammers struck a wall that will be removed in the new market.
Tucker works with nearby Vincent Village, a shelter. She shared that she once saw a Vincent Village resident step off a city bus carrying eight bag of groceries and holding her little girl’s arm.
“She had to ride a bus downtown, take a transfer to the southeast side of town, go back and take another transfer. That probably took her a couple hours to get groceries, get access to food,” Tucker said.
Tucker recounted the early moments of the Pontiac Street Market initiative. “The cry that we heard early is that people needed access to food, not just vegetables, but meat, vegetables, food that people would be able to prepare a full meal,” she said. “So you’re standing in the middle of the answer to that problem.”
Tucker also thanked Council President Glynn Hines, D-at large; Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th; and Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, for their support of the project. Tucker invited her colleagues to step up to wield hammers to help take down the wall.
Community Development Division Director Nancy Townsend introduced the speakers, explaining that the building will be remodeled and expanded to serve the community. She thanked Mayor Tom Henry, Tucker and the full City Council for working to bring access to food and nutrition. “Parkview’s commitment to helping address food access is clearly demonstrated in their deep and crucial involvement in making the Pontiac Street Market a reality,” she said.
Parkview Community Health & Equity Senior Vice President Dr. Sarah GiaQuinta told of the need to address the health of the community as a whole. “What I’ve learned through this work is that health and well-being depend on so much more than what happens in the walls of a hospital or doctor’s office,” she said, emphasizing health behaviors and environment.
“In Allen County we know that the neighborhoods that have the highest poverty and the lowest access to healthy food are the ones with the highest rates of chronic disease and overall worst outcomes,” she said. “So as a health system we need to do better and it’s critical that in addition to operating the highest level of healthcare services we invest in initiatives that address these factors of health. That’s why I’m so happy to be partnering with the city on this Pontiac Street Market.”
She said she hopes the market is welcomed by the community and serves as a catalyst for creating and strengthening additional partnerships.
Henry said the city has been studying nutrition access for some time and over the past couple years has been talking with Parkview Health and other healthcare providers about solutions.
“We realized that we did have a food desert in our community,” he said. “We realized that we have too many of our citizens with Type 2 diabetes that goes unchecked and, unfortunately, the percentage of infant mortality in our community is unacceptable.”
“Fort Wayne is better than that; we shouldn’t be at the top of these statistics,” the mayor said.
“This is an initiative that we’ve been looking at for quite some time,” Henry said. “We are encouraged by the outpouring of support that we have received. We still have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning, but we are on the right track.”
“ ... all of you have refused to give up,” he said. “We’re not going to be denied the possibility of having something like this in our community.”
The grocery store comes after being identified as a vital need through several community Southeast Strategy Update meetings.
The full-service market will provide fresh produce, meats, dairy, prepared food and baked goods and offer a sandwich counter and grocery pickup.
In a news release, the city said Community Development staff, in collaboration with the store operator, will meet with representatives from nearby and surrounding neighborhoods and other community organizations over the next couple of months to get input on the types of products and services the store should offer. An Advisory Committee made up of community representatives will provide input to the grocery’s board of directors.
The Pontiac Street Market received approvals from the Redevelopment Commission and City Council to invest $3.4 million on the upfront construction costs. The funding includes $2 million in federal funds, $700,000 from Local Income Tax, and $700,000 from the Redevelopment Capital Fund. The Capital Fund and LIT funds will be reimbursed by Parkview over a 5-year period. Parkview will also provide the upfront operating capital to ensure that the grocery remains fully stocked and staffed. The grocery will be operated by Parkview’s food service provider, Sodexo.
The Redevelopment Commission will manage construction through Hagerman Group, which was selected through a competitive request for proposals process. Hagerman Group will donate a portion of its construction services in support of the project.
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