(Nov. 19, 11:08 a.m.) A nonprofit group that works in conjunction with Detroit’s city government hopes to attract more retailers to the nation’s 11th largest city.

The Detroit Economic Growth Corp., with a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, has started the Detroit Fresh Food Access Initiative.

Olga Savic Stella, vice president of business development for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and co-chair of the initiative, said that grant will serve as seed money to get the program started. She said the goal is raise millions of dollars to help both independent and chain retailers with financing to open new stores and to expand and improve existing stores.

An August report from the initiative states that more than 500,000 Detroit residents live in “food deserts,” or areas that are underserved by retail grocery stores. The report found that Detroit residents spend nearly $1 billion a year on groceries, but at least $210 million of that total is spent in suburban stores. The report estimates that the city could support at least 600,000 additional square feet of retail grocery space.

“At one point we had Farmer Jack, Kroger and some smaller chains,” Stella said. “There are not a lot of retail grocery chains that remain.”

The report states that many residents do their grocery shopping at convenience stores, dollar stores and other alternative stores that have minimal fresh food selections. That, the report says, is bad for public health.

The lack of retail stores in some areas, the report says, also is detrimental to home values and development.

“The grocery store is a fundamental building block,” said Stella, who added that a statewide program in Pennsylvania helped finance the construction of 50 stores in four years in underserved urban and rural areas.

While the Detroit Fresh Food Access Initiative is just getting started with fundraising, Stella said the program already is assisting retailers in other ways, such as helping streamline the permit process and providing market information.

Guaranteed Fresh

Meanwhile, another Detroit group has taken exception to the Detroit Fresh Food Access Initiative’s use of the term “food desert.” Twenty-five of the city’s independent retailers have launched the Guaranteed Fresh Detroit Independent Grocers Initiative.

Mike Dikhow, president of Warren, Mich.-based grocery distributor Liberty Wholesale and co-chair of the Guaranteed Fresh program, said the city’s independent retailers have invested more than $15 million on remodels, expansions and new store construction in the past five years.

“These are great operators that have served the city for years,” Dikhow said. “They have made a pledge to the citizens that they offer fresh produce, fresh meats and other fresh foods and that their stores are clean. They have always operated that way, but now they’re making their voices heard. People have the wrong perception about independent retailers.”

Dikhow said participating retailers are putting large signs at store entrances to inform consumers about the program, which launched in late October.

“We want to make sure that people who are shopping in the city continue to do so and aren’t going out to the big box stores in the suburbs,” he said.