A growing necessity

Looking ahead: The Wissinoming ShopRite will be 68,000 square feet and employ 300. A rendering of the property (above) shows four additional structures, including a 5,300-square-foot convenience store with fueling station and a 4,200-square-foot restaurant along Tulip Street. SOURCE: CARL FREEDMAN

The closure of the sprawling Ocean Desert Sales warehouse in Wissinoming will soon mean the end of the neighborhood’s metaphorical “food desert,” and community leaders are thrilled about it.

Developers hope to break ground this summer on the Shoppes at Wissinoming, a 12-acre shopping center that will include 110,000 square feet of retail space, including a new ShopRite and Super Wawa, along with other stores or eateries. The project represents a $30 million investment in a neighborhood that has lacked its own supermarket for decades. It will also bring about 250 union construction jobs and an estimated 500 permanent jobs to the area.

“I’m just excited for the neighborhood,” said John Barnes, president of the Wissinoming Civic Association and director of the nearby McCafferty-Sweeney Funeral Home. “You will no longer have to leave the neighborhood to get life’s necessities.”

On Jan. 6, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the Commonwealth Cornerstone Group, a branch of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, had completed a $7 million transaction to finance part of the Wissinoming project through the federal New Markets Tax Credit program. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation has provided an additional $5.5 million in NMTC financing, while J.P. Morgan Chase has made a $2 million equity investment in the project.

The loans will help offset the costs of construction, as well as demolishing several existing, blighted buildings on the site and remediating some environmental problems. The property is on the 5400 block of Tulip St., just east of Harbison Avenue.

“Logistically, it’s where Wissinoming, Frankford and Bridesburg come together, so people from all of (those neighborhoods) will shop there,” Barnes said.

The concept of a food desert is recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which uses census data and information about supermarkets to identify areas that may have inadequate access to healthy, affordable food. The USDA created an online interactive map, the Food Access Research Atlas, showing areas where a large portion of the population lives more than one mile from the nearest supermarket. Wissinoming, Tacony and Bridesburg are all highlighted on the map. Meanwhile, Frankford will soon lose its supermarket, the Holiday Thriftway at Frankford Avenue and Pratt Street, where the landlord plans to redevelop that site as a corporate chain pharmacy.

The Shoppes at Wissinoming project is a joint venture of ARC Properties, The Dreher Group and FC Development Group. Lead developer Carl Freedman told the Northeast Times last week that they are banking on the economic potential of the underserved community.

“Absolutely. It’s the fact that there’s a void in the area for a supermarket and there are a lot of people in the area. It was natural for us to put in a supermarket,” Freedman said. “It was a combination of (identifying) a good piece of ground and that there was a need.”

ShopRite and Wawa have already reached lease agreements to anchor the center.

“Those are two big traffic producers,” Freedman said.

The Wissinoming Civic Association and Frankford Neighborhood Advisory Committee have endorsed the project, which has obtained all necessary zoning approvals. The developer has agreed to participate in a National Institute of Health study to assess the impact of the new supermarket in the area, once it’s open for business. Generally, supermarkets offer healthier food options like fresh produce, more variety due to their size and better prices due to sales volume.

ShopRite will be managed by Ammons, the same company that operates the ShopRite at Aramingo and Castor avenues in Port Richmond. In 2013, during the planning stages of the Wissinoming project, Ammons was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the developers of the Frankford Arsenal in Bridesburg, who claimed that Ammons had been negotiating in bad faith with the Arsenal developers in an effort to prevent other supermarkets from leasing space there. That legal action has been settled as it pertains to the Shoppes at Wissinoming project, according to Freedman.

The Wissinoming ShopRite will be 68,000 square feet and employ 300, Freedman said. Renderings of the property show four additional structures, including a 5,300-square-foot convenience store with fueling station and a 4,200-square-foot restaurant along Tulip Street. The rear of the property along Amtrak tracks has a free-standing building of 15,000 square feet as well as a cluster of about seven smaller storefronts with 17,000 combined square feet.

“I believe strongly that there are a lot of good local business people who might be interested in relocating to the center,” Freedman said. “We’ll have a mix of national and local businesses. We’ve just started leasing.”

That’s good news to Barnes, whose group is trying to rejuvenate a neighborhood that saw its post office closed in 2011 and had also been without a bank or similar financial institution until American Heritage Federal Credit Union opened a branch at Harbison and Tulip a few years ago. SEPTA phased out the Wissinoming stop on its regional rail service a few years ago, too. The developers are in discussions with SEPTA to design a new bus stop inside the shopping center, according to Freedman.

“Wissinoming hasn’t had development in a long time and we’re producing a lot of jobs,” he said. ••

Building anticipation: Developers hope to break ground this summer on the Shoppes at Wissinoming. The project, which includes a new ShopRite and Super Wawa, represents a $30 million investment in the neighborhood. It is expected to produce about 500 permanent jobs. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO