Frey plans tackle area ‘food desert’

The city councilman has a list of more than 20 construction projects slated for his ward.

Frey plans tackle area ‘food desert’

Nick Wicker

Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey wants to help bring a more affordable grocery store option to University of Minnesota students.

Frey proposed a new grocery store be constructed this year near Thresher Square, a block in Downtown East that is just one Green Line light rail stop away from the West Bank campus. In addition to receiving investment from a grocer, Frey said he will also seek input from students.

The plan is part of Frey’s overall goal to undertake more than 20 new construction projects this year, many of which are aimed at retaining students in the city after they graduate.

The councilman said that while students are able to buy limited quantities of produce and other food items for high prices, the area around campus is largely a “food desert.”

The University has one of the least expensive dining plans in the Big Ten, said Leslie Bowman, executive director of the University Dining Services’ Contract Administration.

But Frey said the problem largely comes from expensive off-campus food options, and he wants to give students an alternative to the smaller grocery stores near campus.

Related: Frey reflects on first year in office

Before he moves ahead with the proposal, Frey said he’ll consult with the Minnesota Student Association.

Clay Wagar, MSA’s student representative to the University District Alliance, said the student group would support Frey’s proposal.

“All of those initiatives are non-controversial, absolutely help students and will be met with support,” Wagar said.

Biochemistry sophomore Kelsey Klingel said she would shop at a more affordable grocery store, even if it meant traveling an additional light rail stop away from campus.

“My issue is getting somewhere the groceries are cheaper,” Klingel said. “Like [at TargetExpress], I know that I’m spending more money.”

Bowman said this isn’t the first time a grocery store has been proposed to be built near campus. In recent years, some student groups advocated for a more affordable grocery store, but their ideas have not led to any developments, she said.

Frey said a final decision hasn’t been made on which grocery store company will be at the location.

He said the proposal must be approved by the City Council in the coming weeks. Construction of the store would be covered with private funds from the company that signs the lease, which Frey expects to happen in the coming months.