ATLANTIC CITY - The IGA sign still in the window of a now-empty grocery store is a sad reminder of Atlantic City's trouble in attracting and keeping supermarket chains.
IGA left in 2006 and the Thriftway brand closed its store in the same location in 2004, each time leaving Atlantic City without any supermarkets.
However, the city and the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority have reached agreement for a new A&P supermarket in the downtown shopping plaza where IGA and Thriftway failed.
Final negotiations are under way between A&P and Renaissance Plaza owner Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. of New York for the store lease. The supermarket, operating under A&P's Food Basics brand, will open for business at Atlantic and Kentucky avenues about eight months after the lease is signed.
"We're very confident - 99.9 percent sure - this will be consummated in the very near future," CRDA Executive Director Thomas D. Carver said.
The city and CRDA have crafted a package of incentives to make the location more attractive to A&P and help Ashkenazy close the deal on the lease.
On Friday, the CRDA's board of directors voted to freeze the payments on a $1.3 million mortgage that Ashkenazy has with the authority for the shopping center. Relieved of the mortgage payments, Ashkenazy will be able to pass on the savings by charging A&P lower rent for the building, Carver explained. Ashkenazy's loan payments would resume only if the company sells the building or if the site stops operating as a supermarket.
In addition, Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who is a CRDA board member, has agreed to ask City Council to grant a five-year tax abatement to help reduce the cost of getting the new supermarket started.
"This is a great day for Atlantic City as we bring a supermarket back to the community," Langford said in a statement.
Councilman Steven Moore, another supermarket supporter, said the project will create jobs for local residents. He also wants a jobs-training program for local students.
"I'm just absolutely thrilled that A&P is coming here," Moore said at the CRDA board meeting.
Moore recalled that when he was growing up, there were four supermarkets in Atlantic City. With no supermarkets in town now, Atlantic City residents must shop at grocery stores in neighboring communities.
The CRDA, a state agency that uses casino revenue for housing projects and economic development, thought it had solved Atlantic City's supermarket shortage when it helped finance construction of Renaissance Plaza in 1996. A Thriftway supermarket became the anchor of the shopping center, but would close eight years later after a troubled run.
Thriftway angered the local community by erecting jail-like bars at the store's front entrance to prevent shopping-cart theft. When IGA took over, complaints continued about the supermarket and its location next to a liquor store. Over the years, the shopping center has been plagued by panhandlers and loitering, city officials and residents have said.
Susan Ney Thompson, the CRDA's chief operating officer, said A&P wants a police substation inside the supermarket to protect shoppers from crime. Langford supports having a substation there, but must work out the details with the police department.
One local resident, William Cheatham, said the shopping center's troubled history demands the presence of a police substation.
"The only success that the market will have is by having it there," Cheatham told CRDA board members.
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