Syracuse University

SU News

Ground broken for South Side Food Cooperative

May 04, 2012

Kelly Homan Rodoski
(315) 443-3784

The Southside Community Coalition and Syracuse University’s South Side Initiative Office broke ground on Friday, May 4, for the South Side Food Cooperative, a major step forward in the development of a business and cultural district on the South Salina Street corridor between Colvin Street and Brighton Avenue.

SSFCConstruction on the locally owned, urban food cooperative—a 3,000-square-foot grocery store and café—will begin immediately and is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. The project is supported by grants from New York State’s Empire State Development through the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council (CNY REDC), the Central New York Community Foundation, the Gifford Foundation and the Allyn Foundation. The project also received a one-time grant from the Syracuse University Office of the Chancellor, as SU students and faculty are involved in the project as part of their ongoing academic work. Ground Works Capital Coalition (GC2), the Gifford Foundation and the Southside Community Coalition joined forces to work on bringing healthy food to Syracuse’s South Side.

The cooperatively owned community grocery store will make nutritious and affordable food accessible for an area of Syracuse that has been defined by the state and federal governments as a “food desert.” The building, designed by architect Sekou Cooke, combines form with function, serving the need for better nutrition while creating another beautiful structure on the south side of the city. Local farms and distributors will be utilized to supply food products.

“The South Side Food Cooperative exemplifies how partners from across the community can collaborate to make a real difference in the lives of city residents,” says SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor, who co-chairs the CNY REDC. “South Side residents identified this critical need for their neighborhood, worked as members of a community of experts along with public, private and nonprofit sector partners to propose a solution, and now, with the support of New York State and local foundations, their dream is becoming a reality.”

Joseph Bryant, president of the Southside Community Coalition (The Coalition) says the development of the food co-op will bring much-needed access to healthy and affordable food to the South Side. “It will provide the community with a sense of hope and an outlook on a new future,” he says. “It also adds to the overall investment of the Kings Park corridor, South Salina Street between Castle Street and Lafayette Avenue.”

“The South Side Food Cooperative initiative reflects a model of local ownership and collaboration that will foster entrepreneurship, healthy living and community pride,” says Mayor Stephanie A. Miner. “I applaud the Southside Community Coalition, and their many partners and supporters, for their creative efforts in building a more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable community in Syracuse’s South Side.”

The food cooperative is a result of the coalition’s expansive vision. It is the third phase of a four-phase plan to help develop a business and cultural district. The project began in 2006 and, through small incremental steps, built community interest, capacity and confidence.

In December 2011, the Southside Coalition was awarded a $394,000 grant through the CNY REDC, which identified the food cooperative as a priority project. New York State awarded CNY REDC a total of $103.7 million in capital investment funding and tax credits, making it the largest award across the state and naming its strategic economic development plan among the four best. One of the key goals in the CNY REDC plan calls for investment in the region’s urban cores, main streets and neighborhoods.

Linda Littlejohn, associate vice president of SU’s South Side Initiative (SSI), calls the food cooperative “a marriage of economic development and improved community nutrition.”

Local community leaders and politicians agree. “The South Side Food Cooperative is a great example of many different groups and people coming together to improve their community,” says State Sen. David Valesky. “By providing healthy and fresh local food to the South Side and giving residents a stake in the project, it is a model for the future. I commend Joseph and Linda, and all of the volunteers and residents who have supported the co-op for their vision and dedication.”

“This groundbreaking of the South Side Food Cooperative is a great example of the recent revitalization efforts taking place in Syracuse’s South Side community,” says Assembly member Sam Roberts (D/WF-Syracuse). “I applaud the work of The Southside Community Coalition and encourage residents and local businesses to lend their support in restoring prominence to the area.”

“For over 30 years, residents of and around the South Salina Street corridor have gone without access to affordable, quality food,” says Syracuse Common Councilor Khalid Bey. “As a resident of the area and former member of the coalition, I appreciate the continued effort(s) made by the coalition and the SSI to contribute to the economic revitalization of the corridor.”

“The Southside Food Cooperative shows how neighborhood engagement and broad-based community partnerships are revitalizing our urban core,” says Robert Simpson, president of CenterState CEO and co-chair of the CNY REDC. “More than just a store in an underserved area of Syracuse, this project provides new opportunities for neighborhood employment, builds relationships with the region’s agribusiness sector and leverages the resources of academic partners such as Syracuse University to build healthier communities.”

The Community Development Law Clinic in Syracuse University’s College of Law assists in improving low-wealth neighborhoods by creating opportunities for people who are low income to have ownership interests in their lives similar to higher income people. SU law students have been involved with the food cooperative project since the beginning.

Deborah Kenn, professor, associate dean and director of the Community Development Law Clinic in SU’s College of Law, says the issues inherent in communities that have been historically disadvantaged and disinvested in can only be addressed when democratic forms of ownership and control of wealth are available for the people living there. “The food cooperative on the south side of Syracuse is an example of providing ownership interests to the people in the community, encouraging opportunity for economic growth and creating food justice and access to nutritious, affordable foods within the community.”

The food cooperative has also provided important learning opportunities for SU law students, Kenn says. “Being part of the development of the food cooperative has provided the student attorneys in the Community Development Law Clinic with first-hand experience and knowledge of how to apply their legal skills in addressing systemic issues of poverty and providing real economic opportunity for people in low-wealth communities,” she says.

The south side of Syracuse, particularly the areas between South Avenue and South State Street from Taylor Street to Newell Street, has been a victim of urban blight for many years. The coalition and the SSI have identified multiple areas of development that would lend itself to long-term community revitalization, including an increase in locally owned businesses; a beautification campaign grounded in sustainable green initiatives and cultural significance; infrastructure improvement; an increase in socialization among neighbors; quality education; and the availability of healthy, affordable food. The collaborative partnership between the SSI and the coalition addresses four of these five issues, and focuses its efforts on a the six-block area along South Salina Street between Colvin Street and Brighton Avenue.

“The relationship between economic strength and community well-being cannot be over-emphasized,” says Littlejohn. “The south side area is ravaged by dilapidated rental houses, vacant properties and a poorly maintained streetscape and business infrastructure. Additionally, and as critical to the health of the community, is the dearth of healthy, affordable and accessible food.”

Throughout the United States there are only a few urban food co-ops owned by members of the urban community in which they are located. Although the food co-op is not a novel idea, using cooperative enterprises to build the entrepreneurial spirit in an urban neighborhood is.

The coalition has a newly established track record for assisting with neighborhood revitalization. The coalition’s mission is to help revitalize the south side neighborhood, and its vision is to help develop a business and cultural district in this area along S. Salina Street. In February 2011, the coalition, Home HeadQuarters CDC and SU opened the South Side Communication Center (2331 S. Salina St).

The center houses a public access technology room, a digital scanning area for local history preservation, community classroom space, a conference room and a community newspaper. The public access technology room provides free computer use to residents—many of whom do not own computers. The center is also aimed at attracting new businesses to the area, increasing socialization among neighbors and encouraging the structural improvement of existing businesses.

Since the inception of the Syracuse University South Side Initiative and the Southside Community Coalition in 2006, all collaborative and partnership projects have been designed to address unmet community needs and to help build community capacity through information dissemination, educational workshops and training sessions. In fact, the litmus test for SSI participation in the joint projects is that they must all be developed so that the community can sustain them after SU is no longer involved.

Recent News