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Louisville Metro Council cut $6 million for new grocery stores in food-insecure areas. Here’s why.

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A spokesperson for Mayor Craig Greenberg said he may consider revisiting grocery funding if a specific opportunity arises during the fiscal year that begins this Saturday, July 1.

Louisville Metro Council members cut a $6 million proposal from Mayor Craig Greenberg that would have subsidized opening new grocery stores downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Louisville Metro Council members cut a $6-million proposal from Mayor Craig Greenberg that would have subsidized opening new grocery stores downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods.

Local lawmakers approved the 2024 budget last week to the tune of $1.1 billion, with the highest allocation — $222 million — going to the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Kevin Trager, spokesperson for Mayor Greenberg, said in a statement that cutting the grocery funding was a mutual decision between the administration and council.

“Mayor Greenberg remains committed to working in partnership with the Metro Council to bring real grocery stores and healthy food options to neighborhoods, and we have discussed the possibility of revisiting this issue if specific opportunities present themselves during the fiscal year,” the statement read.

Greenberg told LPM News on June 12 the administration didn’t have a “detailed level of plans” for how to spend the proposed $6 million.

Metro Council President Markus Winkler, a District 17 Democrat, said the council’s discussions with the administration prior to the cuts indicated Greenberg wanted to take a different approach.

“He essentially realized that the previous administration’s strategy was not good, and not one he agreed with,” he said.

There are food deserts in west Louisville, where most residents are Black or low-income. That means the neighborhoods lack grocery stores and fresh produce. According to the Greater Louisville Project, a recently closed organization that created data-based reports, one in five city residents lives in a food desert, and more than two-thirds of Louisville’s households without a vehicle live more than a mile from a grocery store.

Winkler said the administration is still working out a viable direction for bringing grocery options to downtown and west Louisville. “They want to go back to the drawing board and really identify what they want to pursue as a strategy, be it national grocery incentivization or finding local communities to work with,” he said.

Winkler said he doesn’t know what Greenberg’ new strategy is and Trager, the mayor’s spokesperson, did not provide details.

Concerns over community grocery project

The strategy by former Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration that Winkler said Greenberg wasn’t happy with involves the Louisville Community Grocery in Smoketown.

Late last year, Metro Council approved $3.5 million to go to the Louisville Community Grocery, a cooperative with land in Smoketown.

The Community Grocery could break ground this fall, which would be more than three years after council members allocated the funding for a community grocery store.

“We allocated that money almost three years ago and there’s nothing to show for it. We don’t even have a plan to spend the existing $3.5 million, so what is the benefit of throwing six more million when you can’t even spend what’s already been allocated?” Winkler said.

Tiffany Brown, co-director of the nonprofit Louisville Association for Cooperative Economics that is helping develop the store, said they’ve raised enough money from other donors for construction and breaking ground. They’ve signed a development agreement with the city, though they haven’t received the money yet, Brown said.

“We were promised [the funds], but there are still some stipulations that this Government wants to see which we are agreeable to, but it’s a process and it does not happen overnight,” she said.

Trager, Greenberg’s spokesperson, said the mayor’s office is concerned about that project’s progress but “stands ready” to help make it a reality.

Beyond big-box stores

District 3 Council Member Kumar Rashad, a Democrat who represents Shively, called the budget cut disappointing. He said the city’s strategy needs to help existing food marts instead of bringing more grocery corporations.

“We could really be focusing on these marts more than just waiting on big grocery store corporations who aren’t respecting the areas that we’re from,” he said.

Shively hasn’t had a large grocery store since the Kroger there closed in 2016. Rashad said he was hoping the funds in Greenberg’s proposal would help bring a store to that city.

Rashad said he isn’t aware of a strategy from the administration to encourage more grocery options, but enticing corporations with subsidies might not be the answer.

“I think we’re just sitting on our hands waiting for a pie in the sky to happen when we could be more proactive and utilize our local farmers and local vendors,” he said.

Roberto Roldan contributed reporting.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.