Southeast Raleigh leaders are divided over whether to support a new grocery venture run by state budget director Art Pope’s company.
Some say Pope’s purchase of the vacant Kroger on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard merits the community’s support as Variety Wholesalers addresses the needs of a food desert. But others are calling for residents to avoid the store, pointing to Pope’s financial support for conservative causes.
Pope’s company, which owns Roses, Maxway and other discount stores, bought the property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard last month for $2.57 million – well below its assessed tax value of $5.65 million. Variety plans to open a Roses and a separate grocery in the 60,000-square-foot space.
The Rev. Dr. Earl Johnson, head of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, said Pope’s politics will turn off many potential shoppers in the predominantly black community. He fears the store will offer only low-quality products and minimum wage jobs.
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“He’s promoting conservative values that hurt poor people,” Johnson said. “I’m encouraging people in this community not to support this store. I’m encouraging them to continue to go half a mile down to Food Lion.”
Johnson said his group will be meeting soon to discuss what Pope’s plans mean for Southeast Raleigh. But not all leaders in the area share his reaction. About a dozen people – including Wake County Commissioner James West – held a news conference last week in front of the vacant store to voice support for the retailer.
“In spite of who’s bringing the facility here, it’s much needed,” said Gail Eluwa, who chairs the N.C. Black Leadership Caucus. She pledged to work with Variety to ensure it employs local workers and meets the community’s needs.
Danny Coleman, chairman of the South Central Citizens Advisory Council, criticized those who view Variety’s plans through a political lens.
“Go and make a political issue someplace else,” he said. “I’m sure everyone has something challenging in their background in some way.”
But Johnson said he’s concerned by the deal Pope’s company received. Nearby Mount Peace Baptist Church had offered $3.1 million for the property but needed several months to raise the necessary funds. The church had hoped to turn the building into a new family life center.
“(Pope) doesn’t deserve to have the Kroger store, nor does he deserve to outbid the church,” he said.
Johnson also questions the role of Wallace Green, who heads the Raleigh Area Development Authority, a nonprofit economic development group that partners with the city.
A news release issued Friday said Green – who’s also vice president of TradeMark Properties – represented Variety in the deal. “We recognized what a good match Roses’ new grocery model would be for this neighborhood and approached them about this possible investment,” Green said in the release. “By working hand in hand with our client, we were able to meet their needs and the needs of the community.”
Johnson said Green’s dual role is troubling. “It’s seems like a mega-conflict,” he said. “For him to be working with a group with Art Pope is something I’m concerned about.”