WATERLOO -- Developers, city leaders and community members Monday celebrated the ground breaking for a new grocery store and restaurant in the Walnut Neighborhood.
But many among the more than 150 people who turned out for the event said the planned All-In Grocers near the CVS Pharmacy at U.S. Highway 63 and Franklin Street is more than just another place to shop and eat.
"All-In will be the seed that is going to be planted in the city," said the Rev. Morris Anderson. "Whenever a seed is planted, it is supposed to produce and reproduce.
"What All-In is going to do is produce and reproduce jobs, opportunity," he added. "It's going to bless the city. … It's going to bring a side of the city together."
Entrepreneur Rodney Anderson and architect Dan Levi are partners in the new $8.9 million, 30,000-square-foot store that will include a Grandma's Hands Restaurant and the Mrs. Willie Mae Wright Community Center.
Wright, a former City Council member and community leader, lives across the street from the construction site and grabbed a shovel for the ground breaking.
"It's the most important thing that ever happened to the Walnut Neighborhood since I've been here, and I've been here 58 years," Wright said. "Ever since I was on City Council I wanted development on the east side like on the west side. We're getting there."
Levi said it's been 18 months since Rodney Anderson asked him to travel to Philadelphia to meet with UpLift Solutions, a nonprofit agency that helps establish grocery stores in under-served communities.
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That led to meetings with the Walnut Neighborhood Association and city officials to get the project off the ground. The City Council approved $1.3 million in grants, property tax breaks and land donations to make the project feasible.
"This is not a Rodney Anderson project or a Dan Levi project," Rodney Anderson said. "This is a city of Waterloo project.
"The building is going to be built," he added. "We have to shop at the store. We've got to eat at the restaurant. We've got to use the Mrs. Willie Mae Wright Community Center, not because we have to but because we want to."
Mayor Quentin Hart said the city is working with partners to revitalize the Walnut Neighborhood, including private investors like Anderson and Levi, the neighborhood association, private and nonprofit housing developers and even the Boys and Girls Clubs.
"This is a blueprint of how we're going to be able to change every neighborhood in the entire city of Waterloo," he said.
The Rev. Judy Marshall, who lives and leads a church in the Walnut Neighborhood, said she needed to pinch herself to make sure the ground breaking was really happening.
"We prayer walked for four years just asking the Lord to change this neighborhood, change the housing, bring us a grocery store, bring us a hardware store," Marshall said. "To me, I just can't believe it's all coming together."
Levi and Anderson said they hope the store can open by the end of 2018 despite losing time this spring due to poor weather.