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Local government subsidies? Why, yes, they’re in Aisle 4, right next to the state subsidies and organic tomatoes.

Sigh. We’re having a hard time bagging up the financial details proposed for the creation of the Wild Root Market, the consumer cooperative grocery proposed at 500 Walton Ave., a couple of blocks from the Racine Zoo.

Last week, the Racine Development Authority unanimously recommended giving Wild Root a city grant of up to $390,000 to help the co-op get up and running in the former medical building at the site. In turn, that city support — a grant, not a loan — is expected to be used to leverage a state grant of $250,000 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

And it’s all supposed to come together this month in time to start construction of the $4.8 million project by the end of April so the co-op can open by fall.

We’re all for the concept of a new, full service grocery store on the north side of town offering a delicatessen and café, local and organic meats, eggs and produce, bulk foods, wine and beer. And we’re cheered by the prospect of a new business adding 40 to 50 jobs and generating what Wild Root supporters say will be over $5 million in sales in the first year.

If it is successful, it could be a real plus for the city.

But we’re not comfortable with the idea that it will take government donations to get going and we have to ask ourselves — and the city — if it would be giving out such financial donations to, say, a Piggly Wiggly or a Pick N Save or anyone else, if it wanted to open a new store. These are not loans that would require repayment, as far as we know, they are donations. Is this a case of government picking a “winner” by giving one proposal a leg up?

As it currently stands, the proposed city and state grants, if they are approved, could provide up to $640,000 for the co-op. The backers of Wild Root, meanwhile, have, according to their website this week, raised $600,300 in pledged “owner loans” toward their goal of raising $1.125 million from co-op owners, which puts it at just over 53 percent of its owner loan goal.

After missing its March 31 deadline, Wild Root extended its campaign into April.

As it stands today, the proposed government donations make up more than the commitments from the Wild Root owners and we’re not sure that’s the best profile for spending city dollars.


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