Latino grocery to anchor new Lebanon plaza
A new strip mall in downtown Lebanon aims to bring healthy food to the neighborhood, while helping serve a growing segment of the city's population.
“It is going to be a Latino grocery store,” Mayor Sherry Capello told the Business Journal during a recent interview about what’s being called the Partridge Street Redevelopment Project.
Lebanon, a city of 25,000, has seen its Latino population swell in recent years, with the latest American Community Survey estimates placing its share at 40 percent, Capello said.
Aaron Camara, president of Lancaster County-based Monarch Enterprise Inc., which is developing the strip mall, said he can’t yet reveal the supermarket operator’s name, but it’s someone he believes will be a good fit for Lebanon.
“It’s going to be a full-service grocery serving everyone,” Camara said, but with an emphasis on Latino products that may not otherwise be available in the area.
Camara said he was enthusiastic about working with the mayor and city, and that redevelopment there in recent years encouraged him to take on the project.
The project overall will turn the former site of dilapidated row homes into a plaza featuring a national retail store and a restaurant, with a 13,000 square-foot grocery store as its anchor.
And that’s critical, according to officials with Community First Fund.
The neighborhood has been designated a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to residents’ lack of access to full-service grocery stores with healthy food options. USDA defines a food desert as a low-income area where a substantial share of residents live more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.
“Providing access to a grocery store and healthy foods is a critical issue in underserved communities,” Community First CEO Dan Betancourt said in a statement earlier this month.
Lancaster-based Community First, a nonprofit economic development organization, recently announced a $5.5 million New Markets Tax Credit allocation for construction of the project.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the tax credit program promotes community development and economic growth through the use of tax credits that attract private investment to distressed communities. The credits can be applied to construction or major improvement of commercial buildings in areas where at least 20 percent of the community lives at or below the poverty line.
The new shopping center will be built on a 3.25 acre tract of land that Monarch purchased earlier this year from the city of Lebanon. Bounded by a railroad line and two overpasses, the site had been occupied by run-down row houses.
Capello said the project fits an important community development need.
The overpasses were built in recent years to help improve travel times across the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks for first responders, as well as shortening commute times for travelers, Capello said.
But their construction raised concerns about the future of the land in between.
“In the middle were 36 homes which represented our poorest housing stock in the city,” Capello said. “What was their quality of life (in this spot) going to be like? We need to do something about this.”
Capello said the city, in partnership with the county Redevelopment Authority, approached the planning commission with a plan. The planners themselves were looking for light industrial or commercial uses, she said, because of concerns about putting houses between the two bridges.
“We thought, if a lot of people were walking and we were trying to help the neighborhood — in the middle of a food desert — we need some type of a market,” the mayor added.
That now appears to be on tap, under Camara’s plan, with construction expected to begin later this year.
The proposed shopping center also will include pedestrian walkways and grassy areas, to improve foot traffic and blend in with the neighborhood, Capello added.
“It’s a beautiful concept, and we wish him all the success in the world,” the mayor said.