For a year now, the area of Oklahoma City commonly called “the east side” by those who grew up there has been a food desert where no full-service grocery was present.
But, with ground being broken for a new Homeland at N.E. 36th and Lincoln Boulevard Thursday, the situation is starting to change. The store is set to open Fall of 2021.
A mix of eastside residents, City of Oklahoma City officials, Homeland (HAC Inc) executives and employees from their headquarters only a half block away made up a larger-than-usual crowd on the empty property that previously belonged to a state agency.
Willa Johnson, former Ward 7 Council member and former Oklahoma County commissioner was present for the groundbreaking.
She worked for years to get a larger grocery presence in the area.
“This means everything to me,” she told Free Press. “This was my dream 30 years ago.”
But, it was current Ward 7 Councilor Nikki Nice and a supportive Mayor David Holt who were able to unite an array of people and organizations to advance the project.
“We’re extremely grateful,” Nice told us just before the event started. She said they talked with a number of grocery companies and Homeland was “the only one that said yes.”
She pointed to the several firsts that the new store would represent.
“This is their first store that they built in many years,” said Nice. “So this is a first for many years for both of us, for our city, as far as northeast Oklahoma City is concerned, and also for Homeland. So we’re grateful for that.”
Nice said that they had been working on getting a new grocery in the area for years and mentioned the closing of the Smart Saver at N.E. 23rd and Martin Luther King Ave in 2019, the last full-service grocery in the area.
During the ceremony Holt recounted the many times throughout recent decades when various city and business leaders thought a new grocery on the east side was in the making only to have their hopes dashed.
“When people ask me how to get things done, especially the hard things, I always have a simple answer. It takes persistence and patience, because we plant trees so that our grandchildren have shade,” said Holt.
The key to the project happening was Homeland. The corporation announced in August of 2019 that they would build the store and estimated that they would invest $16 million in the project that would cost more than that.
To learn more: Homeland to build new full-service grocery store on Eastside
During the ceremony Nice said that they had to have some “uncomfortable conversations” about who would be investing in the project because she had insisted that there be “community investment” and that they have investors who “reflect the community.”
Cathy O’Connor is the CEO of the Alliance for Economic Development, a private company that has served as a go-between on many projects in the core of Oklahoma City involving the City of Oklahoma City.
Before the ceremony we asked her what it took to get the project to move forward.
“It took a whole lot of people saying yes. It took City Council saying yes. It took finding the right lender, the right financial partners, finding the right operator for the store. It took a whole lot of people saying yes,” said O’Connor.
During the ceremony, O’Connor praised the City of Oklahoma City for setting up the Northeast Renaissance Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District that will help finance the many unseen infrastructure improvements that will need to be made.
She also mentioned the Endeavor Corporation as one of the investors and thanked several others who are from the community for investing as well as Chris Turner, president, and CFO of First State Bank who are equity investors.
O’Connor mentioned other entities who were a part of the deal in some way: Heartland Renaissance Fund (a part of Arkansas Capitol Group), US Bank, National Cooperative Bank, and MetaFund impact accelerator.
They were all a part of complex investments for tax credits in the area designated as an Enterprise Zone.
She lastly thanked Bob Ross and Sarah Roberts of the Inasmuch Foundation. “They brought in the last piece of capital that we really needed to bring this project across the finish line,” said O’Connor.
Near Homeland Headquarters
The corporate headquarters and warehouses for HAC Inc are less than a block to the west of the new store location and they turned out for the event.
Information provided by the company shows as of 2020, HAC operates 80 grocery stores in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Georgia.
HAC operates under multiple banners including Food World, Piggly Wiggly, Country Mart, United, Cash Saver, Ponca City Discount and Homeland. Homeland is HAC’s largest banner as well as Oklahoma’s largest locally-owned grocery store chain with 34 locations statewide. Homeland has been 100 percent employee owned since 2011.
The company traces its roots back to 1916 when the first United Supermarket was opened.
Marc Jones, President and CEO of HAC Inc which is the parent corporation of Homeland was present, too.
“The combination of the fresh deli, bakery, wine by the glass and casual seating areas allows us to offer an upscale atmosphere,” said Jones in prepared remarks before the event.
“We want our store to serve as a hub for the neighborhood, where workers can grab a prepared lunch and enjoy it on the outdoor patio or where we can host a community gathering with food trucks and entertainment. This store combines several concepts that are growing in popularity with the communities we serve – we’re excited to offer them together in one store.”
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