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Council OKs incentives to keep grocery in Port PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 18:18

With Sentry buyer in the wings, aldermen approve package that include loans, grants, possible TIF financing

   The Port Washington Common Council  on Tuesday unanimously agreed to offer an incentive package of local and state loans and grants to a prospective buyer of Sanfilippo Sentry and the store’s supplier, SuperValu, in a bid to ensure the city’s only grocery store remains in the community.
    Following an hour-long closed session, aldermen directed City Administrator Mark Grams, City Attorney Eric Eberhardt and staff members to prepare a written proposal of incentives to retain the north-side grocery store that would include grant funds from the state’s Economic Grant Fund’s Reinvestment Program, loans from the city and Ozaukee County’s revolving loan fund and potential incentives in a proposed north side tax incremental financing district.
    Grams said he does not know how much money would be available through these programs, although he estimated the city’s revolving loan fund could be tapped for $200,000 and the county’s for $100,000.
 SIGN LG   The funds could be used in a number of ways — for working capital, equipment or remodeling, for example — Grams added.
    “We went as far as we could,” he said of the incentives. “We’ve done everything within financial reason to keep the grocery store open.”
    Ald. Mike Ehrlich, the council president, added, “We certainly would like to see the store stay, and we’re doing what we can to ensure it does.”
    Grams would not identify the prospective buyer, saying only that it is an established grocer who is in talks with Sentry owner Joe Sanfilippo.
    The council’s action comes a week after aldermen met in closed session to consider “all means and options available” to ensure the grocery store remains open despite the fact the owner of the NorthPort Shopping Center seems intent on driving it away.
    Sanfilippo’s lease with the shopping center expires on May 30, 2018, but Sanfilippo needs to notify the landlord by Oct. 31 whether he intends to renew the lease, officials said, adding Sanfilippo has told them he wants to retire soon but would like someone to take over the business and lease.
    The Sentry lease can be extended for five years,  with three more five-year extensions that would ensure a grocery could remain in the city for decades to come.
    Sanfilippo could not be reached for comment.
    The landlord is already advertising the space for rent with a sign at the corner of the shopping center property at the intersection of highways LL and 32 that lists a space of as much as 54,000 square feet for rent with the notation “Not available for supermarket use.”
    Sentry, the largest store in the center, occupies about 47,000 square feet.
    The shopping center is owned by PJR Properties LLC of Sheboygan, and officials said it is owned by the CEO of Piggly Wiggly Midwest.
    “That’s pretty much what he’s implied, it was bought to protect Piggly Wiggly,” said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
    Faced with the potential loss of Port Washington’s only grocery store, officials have quickly taken action to try and keep the market in the community, saying it is a public service vital to the city’s identity.
    Grams said officials recently learned of the prospective buyer and they hope to present the city’s incentive package within the next several days.
    Hopefully, officials will know by next week whether a deal is in place or close and if Sentry will extend its lease, Grams said.
    Both Sanfilippo and SuperValu are in talks with the potential buyer, he said.
    The odds of the grocery store staying, both Grams and Ehrlich said, are likely 50-50.
    “We’ve done what we can,” Ehrlich said. “He (Sanfilippo) is doing what he can to help, too.”
    Tetzlaff told the city’s Community Development Authority on Monday that the grocery store’s location at the I-43 interchange and its loyal workforce are among its biggest advantages, but the competitive market is its biggest disadvantage.
    It’s also an unusual size, Tetzlaff said, noting most groceries are either about 35,000 square feet or 60,000 square feet or larger.
    CDA member Bill Prince asked whether the demise of Sentry could be a catalyst for a downtown grocer, even if it’s a smaller market, but Mayor Tom Mlada said that’s not likely.
    “I think we keep our options open,” he said. “For me, right now the focus in on keeping what we have at the table.”
    Members also expressed concern about what would replace the Sentry store at the shopping center if the grocery goes out of business.
     “We’re hopeful we can retain an important business in the community,” Mlada said.
    Before the meeting,  Ald. Mike Gasper said that while many people he has spoken to would like to see Sentry remain in the community, many are reluctant to use public money as an incentive.
    “It’s going to be a tough decision,” he said.
    If Sentry leaves, officials fear, the city will never get another grocer, noting that the area is saturated with supermarkets. There are 10 groceries in Port, Saukville, Grafton and Cedarburg, as well as numerous convenience stores, officials said.
    And while some residents have been working on a petition drive aimed at getting a store such as Trader Joe’s to move into the city, officials said they have spoken to many grocers and none is interested in coming to the community.
    “I really doubt those are showing up,” Gasper said.

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