With over 100 supporters in attendance and terrific speakers, the Renaissance Community Coop made a fine showing at the May 7th City Council meeting. Final decisions on key issues like economic development support for the coop and ownership of the Renaissance Center, where the coop will operate its grocery store, will be decided at the June 4th Council meeting.

When Casey Thomas, the third speaker representing the Renaissance Cooperative Committee turned to the audience and asked for everyone supporting the community based effort to establish a cooperative grocery store at the former Bessemer Center to stand, about 100 people inside the council chamber and even more out in the overflow area came to their feet.

Casey was the third of three RCC speakers, following the 19-year-old Secretary to the Committee, Tavish Warren, and Louis Beveridge, who serves as Treasurer. Tavish and Louis had spoken about what this effort means to the community and what progress has been made up to this point. In particular the constantly growing community support and the recent offer of $700,000 from the Self Help Credit Union, made it clear that the coop effort is being understood and accepted as a sound business proposition that could succeed in creating jobs and community wealth for years to come.

After a lengthy discussion of three very different proposals, the City Council ended up passing a motion to table a decision on the ownership of the Center and possible support for the RCC until its June 4th meeting. In the meantime, the City is requiring all of the groups wanting to negotiate with them to complete their incorporation work with the State of North Carolina as well as supply additional detailed financial data and plans for upfitting the shopping center.

All of the groups with proposals to the City Council were invited to the podium to make their presentations. The proposal from the New Bessemer Associates, the group represented by Vernon Powell and George Carr, requests that they should be contracted to do the upfit work along the lines that they had proposed when they were seeking ownership of the shopping center in a deal that is no longer in effect. They now propose that the City continue to own the Center, and they would support the RCC Coop Grocery store being included as the anchor tenant. To bolster their support for the Coop, New Bessemer Associates announced that they would contribute $20,000 to support the Coop if they are awarded the contract.

The group of developers represented by Skip Alston, Renaissance Center of Greensboro (RCG), is proposing that the City grant them money to upfit the center, deed over the ownership of the center to them and they will bring in businesses to fill up the center. They are willing to rent space to the RCC Coop Grocery store at the reduced rate in the RCC’s proposal to the City. At one point RCG investors were asked if they had done a market study of their proposed stores and they said that they had not. They also did not supply a list of the exact businesses that they would like to put into the Center.

The good news is that it seems that all parties agree that the RCC should have a home in a newly renovated Renaissance Shopping Center. A Council member at one point said that there were nine votes on the council that the Coop should be included in the development, the only issue was what would be the fate of the balance of the Center. While there is some anxiety about the speed with which these decisions are being made, it is most important that the decisions should be sound ones.

The gains we’ve made show that we can involve the community in building businesses that can create good jobs, provide necessary services, and increase community wealth. Something new and significant is underway. We hope that the community will join us again on June 4th!

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