City officials said recruiting ‘a top priority’ for community

By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

The road toward finding a new full-service grocery store in Whitewater has been long and winding in the more than seven months since Terry Daniels closed his Sentry operation in the community.

City officials were hoping to have reached the end of their journey with a series of recent announcements. For now, however, the quest continues.

The Common Council and Community Development Authority met behind closed doors July 19 to discuss attracting a new grocery store operation to the community. The vacant Sentry building, 1260 W. Main St. was a part of the conversation.

City officials were looking to offer incentives to an unnamed independent grocer, and the CDA was considering using its powers to purchase the Sentry site to help facilitate the process.

But this week, officials at city hall announced the talks have collapsed, and the CDA is no longer looking to purchase the Sentry site.

In a July 26 news release, Patrick Singer, president of Whitewater’s Common Council, said the unnamed grocer had reversed course, asserting his company resources would be stretched too thin if he made an entry into Whitewater.

Singer described the grocer’s announcement as one of “deep disappointment,” but said efforts to land another retailer in this category are ongoing.

“Recruiting an additional grocery option is a top priority for the majority of members of our community,” Singer said in the statement.

He added, “Although the city and CDA will no longer be actively pursuing the acquisition of the former Sentry building, we will diligently continue our efforts to address this need through a traditional grocery store and/or a co-op.”

At last week’s council meeting, Singer revealed why the city and CDA have been laser-focused on the former Sentry site. Early this year, the CDA contracted with Northfield, Minn.-based Perkins Marketing to look at optimal sites for a new grocery store in the community.

“When the results came in, it was determined that the Sentry building site was the most likely for a grocery store to succeed in the City of Whitewater,” Singer said at last week’s meeting.

Another dimension in the conversation has been the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which has a controlling interest in the Sentry site. Citing space constraints on the main campus, the university’s foundation submitted an offer to purchase the property, which was conceptually approved.

The UW System’s Board of Regents is reviewing the agreement, and a definitive decision is pending.

The city and CDA had expressed interest in working with UW-Whitewater to seek out a mutually beneficial solution to using the facility. But with the CDA dropping plans to purchase the property, it remains uncertain if those collaborative efforts will continue.

On a conceptual level, Jeff Knight, chair of the CDA, has been a staunch advocate of bringing a new full-service grocer into the community.

“There is a feeling in the community of a severe need,” Knight said at a CDA meeting early this year. “From my own standpoint, there is a need. My neighbors also think there is a need.”

 

 

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