Florence supports grocery store project

By NIKKI YOUNK

Staff Writer

FLORENCE, Wis. – A new full service grocery store could be coming to downtown Florence.

During the Florence County Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting, Florence County Economic Development Director Wendy Gehlhoff informed attendees that an Upper Peninsula company has expressed interest in operating a new grocery store in the old Haberkorn’s grocery store building.

The building, which is located on the west end of town next to a Subway restaurant, has stood vacant for about seven years.

According to Gehlhoff, the interested company already owns and operates Pat’s Foods stores in Houghton, Hancock, Calumet, Ontonagon, and L’Anse.

However, funding for the project is an issue.

Gehlhoff recommended that the county and project developer seek a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Community Development Investment Grant. If awarded, the grant could reimburse the developer up to $250,000.

In addition, Gehlhoff pointed out that the grocery store is within the county’s proposed tax increment financing (TIF) district. If the state gives final approval to the TIF district, $50,000 in TIF funding could be made available for the project.

Florence County would be on the hook for $15,000 of the $50,000 immediately upon occupancy of the building. This money could be loaned from the general fund and paid back with interest from future TIF revenues. The other $35,000 would be paid from the tax money collected from the property over the lifetime of the TIF district.

Board Chair Jeanette Bomberg stated that she has thoroughly researched the issue.

“We’ve received 18 letters of support from the community endorsing us to go after this grant,” she said. “We have to listen to our community members.”

Gehlhoff noted that the other grocery store in Florence has been made aware of the proposed project.

She added that benefits of a new grocery store include the creation of 15 to 25 new jobs, an increase in sales, payroll, and property taxes, and keeping money revolving in the local economy instead of into Michigan.

Six out of the board’s 11 members were in favor of applying for the WEDC grant and approving the TIF funds, contingent upon the state’s authorization of the TIF.

Voting for the motions were Bomberg, Holly Wahlstrom-Stratton, Ed Wenger, Susan Theer, Gary Steber, and Don Gardner. John Halada was opposed to the motions, Ed Kelley abstained from voting, and Sherry Johnson, Larry Neuens, and Ron Erickson were absent from the meeting.

Both motions passed.

Gehlhoff said that she should know if the TIF district received final state approval by the end of this month. She should hear back on the status of the WEDC grant in four to six weeks.

In other business, the board:

– Approved a revolving loan fund (RLF) loan in the amount of $60,000 at a 4 percent interest rate to The Fence Post.

– Increased funding to the county’s veteran service officer’s department by $5,422 for a total 2014 budget of $16,384. Bomberg said that some of the extra funds will go toward software updates. None of the extra funds will go toward salary, she added.

– Authorized the county’s financial manager to transfer money from the contingency fund to various departments in order to cover the cost of wage increases in 2013. Bomberg explained that the county’s auditor recommended the action.

– Amended the county board’s rules to allow board members to attend meetings via telephone or videoconference. Those wishing to attend a meeting remotely must receive prior authorization. They will still be paid their per diem rate, but not their mileage.

– Tabled action on increasing board members’ compensation until the next budget discussions.

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.