Moncrief prepares to lose its food desert status

A long time Jacksonville food desert could be going away if the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation (CDC) has it their way. Founded in 2001, the mission of the CDC is to revitalize Northwest Jacksonville through education, housing rehabilitation, and economic development. With this in mind, the CDC appears to be making progress with the development of North Point Town Center Phase II.

Site of the proposed North Point Town Center Phase II.

In spite of the site design challenges, the 23,800 square foot project will include a 16,783 square foot grocery store, eliminating the area’s status as a food desert. Initially believed to be a Save A Lot supermarket in 2011, in late 2017 news emerged that Fernandina Beach-based BuyGo has intentions to bring their up-and-coming concept to Moncrief.

According to its website, BuyGO believes eating healthy is a right, not a privilege; that it should be affordable, fresh, and accessible. With that in mind, the retailer opened its first store in 2015 as a part of a quest to address the insufficient access to healthy foods and the everyday essentials in areas where long standing barriers exist that make it difficult for residents to live healthier, more stable lives.

A look inside BuyGo’s store in Fernandina Beach.

It’s the corner grocer of the future. Soon, one might open in your neighborhood. They have plans to open two more BuyGOs in Jacksonville in the next year, in Moncrief and Springfield, both areas with abominable access to fresh, whole foods. There’s no mistaking the feeling in Bowman’s voice when he says that the neighborhood they’ll serve in Moncrief hasn’t had a grocery store in about 20 years—an entire generation—and that some people who live there have told them that they spend two hours on public transportation just to buy groceries. “We’re working with a developer to bring back what they’re missing,” he said. Keeping with their commitment to improving the lives of the community that BuyGOs belong to, for each location, the couple has chosen to rehabilitate old, neglected buildings that may have stood empty for many years. The Fernandina storefront dates back to 1948, the Springfield location on Seventh and Main Street was built in the 1800s. It’s not just a warm fuzzy; it’s a savvy business decision. Because they sign long-term leases rather than buy the property, each owner can apply for grants and low-interest loans that incentivize development in blighted communities. They’re also working to adjust to the needs and preferences of the community. For instance, Moncrief has a substantial Ethiopian population, so they plan to offer items to which the community is accustomed. It may lack the dizzying array of a Super Walmart or Winn-Dixie—you won’t find 100 types of cereal, snacks and sodas—but you will find plenty of heart. Folio Weekly

North Point Town Center Phase II site plan

In addition, Phase II will include 7,017 square feet of retail spaces with outdoor patio areas. Phase II comes seven years after the completion of Phase I. Phase I, a LEED-certified structure with 14,639 square foot retail was completed in November 2011 and developed on a brownfield site. The CDC occupies 3,000 square feet of the building, which was its first commercial development project.

A view of North Point Town Center Phase I.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro and — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at