WATERLOO — Council members bickered over the number of construction extensions given to a would-be downtown grocery store, while the store’s developer said digging out a hidden foundation, supply chain delays and redlining have hampered his good-faith efforts.
The City Council approved a final construction deadline for All-In Grocers of Dec. 31, 2022, on a 5-2 vote Monday night.
The previous development agreement between the city and Central Property Holdings LLC, a partnership between developer Rodney Anderson and city Human Resources Director Lance Dunn, had specified construction was supposed to be finished by Nov. 30 of this year.
The planned 30,000-square-foot building, slated at U.S. Highway 63 and Franklin Street in the Walnut Neighborhood, is expected to include a grocery store, restaurant, laundromat and community center.
Anderson has received nearly $2 million in city incentives over the years, and provided a letter to the council Monday noting $5.9 million in construction loans was preliminarily approved by Self-Help Federal Credit Union, based in North Carolina. He also noted he had already begun construction by pouring a foundation for the building.
But Anderson also has pushed back the timeline for opening the grocery store several times since entering into a development agreement with the city in August 2017, Councilor Dave Boesen noted.
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“At that time, (Anderson) claimed to have financing in place. Then, today, we’re getting a letter that financing may be in place if agreed to by the council,” Boesen said, providing a timeline of the delays over the years.
“The majority of complaints I’ve received are people complaining of the lack of progress at All-In Grocers,” Boesen continued. “My opinion is it’s time to send a message: When we enter into contracts in good faith, we expect the same.”
Ward 1 Councilor Margaret Klein joined Boesen in voting no on the extension.
“We’ve had a whole string of what I consider to be fooling us,” she said. “We have offered extension after extension on what I consider the flimsiest of excuses.”
Anderson said finding “a whole foundation” underneath the property set the project back, as did supply chain issues and related price increases. He also insinuated that at least some local lenders refused to finance the project.
“You guys are intelligent — you know what redlining is,” Anderson, who is Black, said of the banking practice of refusing to loan to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk, historically used to keep Black people from securing loans. “Start meeting with your bankers and ask what’s going on in the east side of Waterloo.”
“We keep giving extensions,” said resident David Dreyer. But, he added, “I know people in that area want to see this grocery store built.”
The majority of the council agreed it was worth granting an extension.
“I understand that timing is everything, and timing has been slow on this one,” said Councilor Jonathan Grieder. But he said he understood “the circumstances that happened” that slowed construction progress. “I don’t see a global pandemic and a supply chain problem as ‘flimsy excuses.’”
Ward 3 Councilor Pat Morrissey said council members had previously voted to extend other development agreements, naming Baltimore Field as well as Commercial and Sixth Street.
“For this council to hang their hat on it not going in a timely fashion, I just have a problem with that, knowing full well there have been other agreements that have been extended without question,” Ward 4 Councilor Jerome Amos agreed.