SCHENECTADY — If the Electric City Food Co-op can devise a workable plan to create a marketplace, it will have major financial assistance with construction.
The Schenectady County Legislature has informally agreed to provide up to $3 million toward such a project.
Electric City and Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op announced Monday that they have begun working together to speed up the long-running but slow-progressing effort to place a food co-op in downtown Schenectady.
The collaboration is now a joint exploratory committee. It could result in anything from Honest Weight essentially absorbing Electric City to merely giving it advice.
Honest Weight, which formed in 1976, has more than 20,000 member-owners. Electric City, an idea first floated more than a decade ago, has 435, and has said it would need at least 1,000 to consider opening a storefront.
But the vision has endured, with hopes of bringing healthy food options to one of Schenectady’s food deserts, areas where there are few local shopping options.
The Schenectady County Legislature shares that goal, Majority Leader Gary Hughes said Tuesday, and has decided to offer major financial backing.
“We have had a number of conversations with the folks at Electric City Food Co-op,” Hughes said. “We have informally committed to funding that up to $3 million, depending how their talks [with Honest Weight] go.”
The money would come from federal stimulus assistance Schenectady County received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
“We’re behind it, we’re interested in it. We think it’s a regional need,” Hughes said, explaining that a local co-op would provide a venue for local agricultural producers to sell their goods, a center for the neighborhood and a shopping option with healthful buying choices for residents.
Similar food deserts exist in other neighborhoods, such as Mont Pleasant, Hamilton Hill and Vale, he said, and the county would like to help address those, too. But at this point there is no proposal for a market in any of those areas that the Legislature could offer to support financially.
Schenectady County was allocated $30.12 million in ARPA stimulus funding. After meeting immediate expenses of the COVID pandemic, the Legislature decided to use the remaining money to provide substantial assistance to a few big projects that will make a transformative difference in communities, Hughes said, rather than make dozens of small grants for various purposes.
The county Legislature made a similar commitment last year, with an informal pledge to consider allocating $5 million to a proposal to build an aquatic sports complex at Mohawk Harbor, provided organizers first raise $25 million of a project cost then estimated at $35 million.
Electric City Food Co-op also is seeking $2.5 million in federal stimulus funds from Schenectady. The city has about $38 million in APRA money left, and has received 70 applications seeking nearly $80 million combined.
Hughes said if Electric City and Honest Weight present a viable plan to build a co-op in downtown Schenectady and secure a site, the county would provide up to $3 million in ARPA money even if the plan also receives ARPA funds from the city.