The coming of Whole Foods to
Detroit's Midtown raises anew the question of who gets lucrative
incentives to open a shop in Detroit and who doesn't.
Chaldean grocer Patty Atisha
and her family opened their third grocery store in Detroit in
June, the 13,500-square-foot Lafayette Foods in Lafayette Park,
with no incentives or financial help from the city.
She says her family has
operated groceries in Detroit since 1987 and knows how to make
it work without incentives.
"It would be nice if we could
get some, but we feel we can do it on our own," she said
Thursday. "We didn't chase it, and nobody came to us saying
'These incentives are out there, either.' " However, city
officials did work with the store on permitting and other
So far, no incentives have
been approved for the Whole Foods project, which as announced
Wednesday will see a 20,000-square-foot Whole Foods open in 2013
on a site north of Mack Avenue between Woodward and John R. But
the local Chaldean News reported that the Whole Foods project
could qualify for between $4 million and $5 million in tax
incentives and foundation money.
Whole Foods spokeswoman Kate
Klotz said that the company would get no incentives from the
city, but acknowledged that Ram Realty Services, the real estate
developer handling the project, may be getting some that would
make the deal more financially feasible.
In Detroit as in many cities,
tax breaks and other incentives typically go to major projects,
like the restoration of the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, or to
lure unique retailers, such as Whole Foods. Austin, Texas-based
Whole Foods offers upscale organic food sought by many shoppers.
It operates several stores in suburban Detroit.
Citing the important benefits
of the new retailer, Sue Mosey, director of the nonprofit group
Midtown Detroit, said Thursday that the Whole Foods store would
create more jobs in the city and send a clear signal of
confidence in the city of Detroit to other national retailers.
"But the best reason of all,"
Mosey said "is that it eliminates the age-old question of where
do I shop when I live in the city of Detroit?"
Atisha said the notion of a
food gap in Detroit is greatly exaggerated.
"We carry organic stuff,
natural gluten-free, dairy-free items here, too," she said.
"We're definitely not a Whole Foods, but for a small store in
the city, we carry a lot of fresh items, great items, too."
As for the incentives, she
added, "It's a little unfair, but I guess the squeaky wheel ...
Economic development officials
defend incentives as crucial to winning business that would go
somewhere else without them. Officials point to deals like the
reopening of the Book Cadillac, which stood vacant for more than
20 years before a complex financial package including multiple
layers of investment tax credits and other aid made the deal
George Jackson, president of
the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., noted that his agency's Green
Grocer Program, initiated in May 2010, works with local grocers
to bring fresh food to the city. So far, the program has worked
with 12 independent grocers on initiatives and facilitated more
than $800,000 in grants and loans to Detroit grocers. Details of
the program are available at http://greengrocerproject.com.
"Without a public-private
partnership under the auspices of the Green Grocer Project, this
deal would not have happened," Jackson said of the Whole Foods
Art Papapanos, vice president
of the DEGC, added that incentives also give the city and state
an edge in the national competition for relocating businesses.
But Auday Arabo, president and
CEO of the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers, said there are
83 full-service grocery stores operating in Detroit without
incentives from the city.
"Competition is a good thing,
but we want to make sure it is on a level playing field," he