The Birmingham City Council Tuesday night passed a measure establishing a Healthy Food Fund. This fund would serve as a pool of funds the city can use to provide financial incentives for grocery stores considering putting a store in Birmingham.
The fund is part of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s healthy food initiative, which seeks to reduce the number of Birmingham residents currently living in a food desert. About 149,000 Birmingham residents—69 percent of the city’s population—currently lives in a USDA-designated food desert.
This fund is separate from the Healthy Food Zoning Ordinance, which will be presented to the city council in the coming weeks, said Josh Carpenter, Director of the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.
“This fund will give us money to help grocers come in to Birmingham,” Carpenter said.
Many grocers face heavy costs when coming in to a new market, which include the cost of stocking the store, construction costs and the costs of hiring employees, he explained.
The fund, which is part of the Neighborhood Revitalization Fund, would give the city a means to give grocery stores money upfront to help with those costs and to provide revenue sharing deals, where the store would get a rebate on sales taxes collected from the sale of groceries, Carpenter said.
“We ultimately want to decrease the number of residents living in food deserts,” he said.
The Healthy Food Ordinance, which is an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, is still being developed. The ordinance would provide rules on how far apart dollar stores would be.
While dollar stores do serve a purpose and meet needs of some residents, Carpenter said they often drive away larger grocery stores with healthier food options.
That ordinance should be introduced to the council in the coming weeks.