LIFT JAX Inc.’s effort to transform the former Debs Store in the Eastside neighborhood into a nonprofit grocery and job training center received a financial lift from the Jacksonville City Council.
Council voted 18-0 on Feb. 8 to approve a $650,000 food desert grant for the nonprofit’s partnership with Goodwill Inc. and VyStar Credit Union to reintroduce a fresh food offering to the area at 1478 Florida Ave. in a $2.3 million project.
Goodwill would operate the store in the area north of the Downtown Sports and Entertainment District and offer employment services, according to a project summary from the city Office of Economic Development.
The Council approved the bill as part of its consent agenda.
The grant would come from the Northwest Jacksonville Food Desert Fund and pay for 40% of the $1.6 million to develop the grocery store portion of the project, according to Ordinance 2022-0029.
Goodwill intends to convert the building’s top floor into a GoodCareers Center job skills facility, according to the project summary.
VyStar would install a walk-up ATM and provide access to financial and counseling resources at the site, the summary said.
“Between VyStar’s access to financial services, Goodwill’s career and workforce development activities, and access to healthy food, the goal is to turn 5th (Street) and Florida (Avenue) into a healthy, vibrant street corner and community hub for all Eastside families,” the summary says.
LIFT JAX’s was formed in March 2020 to create mixed-income housing, cradle-to-career education, community wellness and long-term financial viability to end generational poverty in areas like the Eastside.
Debs Store operated for more than 90 years, according to the summary.
Duval County Property Appraiser records show the building was constructed in 1904.
As part of the bill, Council approved two rule waivers to make the project eligible for the city’s food desert program.
The 2,500-square-foot project also does not meet the food desert program’s minimum 10,000-square-foot requirement.
According to the city economic development office, the project does meet other criteria.
The former Debs is more than 1½ miles from the nearest grocery store and is within four blocks of a U.S. census tract designated a food desert.
LIFT JAX does not own the building and funding the acquisition of the property is not part of the food desert program, which required the second waiver.
Royce Fedd purchased the property in July 2007 for $31,000, according to the Duval County Clerk of Courts.