Islanders reorganize for community-driven development in Town Center

August 3, 2015 | by Erin Sirianni

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CO-OPportunity Postcard-FRONT5x7
Days after Albertsons announced it was closing, a small group of islanders who would eventually call themselves “the Lucky 7” galvanized around an effort to bring a branch grocery store of PCC Natural Markets to Mercer Island.

Within weeks, the group gathered over 1300 group members of a “Bring PCC to Mercer Island” Facebook page. Their messages were positive, their outreach was open and inclusive, and their vision was exciting.

I counted 71 of my own Facebook friends who joined the group. A couple have since admitted that PCC is a little too “granola” for them, but at the time, this was a movement many were excited to join.


Contributed image | Left to right: PCC CFO Randy Lee, Jeff Becker, Lara Sanderson, PCC CEO Cate Hardy, and Jeff Sanderson

The Lucky 7, all island residents who include Craig and Jane Reynolds, Jeff and Lara Sanderson, Lisa Porad, Yaffa Penski, and Jeff Becker, have gone beyond social media with their efforts.

They also created a grocery store survey toward determining shopping preferences of islanders. They attended and provided public comment at City Council meetings, engaged the public at the Farmers Market, executed a postcard campaign, and personally met with PCC CEO Cate Hardy to share their results and promote their cause.

Despite their efforts, the group was met with disappointment when New Seasons Market announced on July 5th it had secured the lease for the Albertsons space.

The group did not dissolve, however. It evolved into the new group, CO-OPportunity. A new Facebook post announced: “We are broadening our mission to serve not only bringing a co-operative grocer to Mercer Island, but also to supporting local, small, community-focused businesses that will ensure we remain a sustainable city.”

The group created a new survey and again welcomes community participation toward gathering collective input toward an improved Town Center.

I recently reached out via email to Lara Sanderson, apparent chief social media correspondent, to learn more about the group.

She wrote in response:

“We chose to evolve into ‘CO-OPportunity’ after realizing our PCC goal was but one example of a larger issue: development of a downtown core in a way that better meets community values, needs, and interests . . . In shifting to a broader focus, we need to fully explore how to best harness the talent and energies of the 1,300 plus people who engaged on our ‘Bring PCC to Mercer Island’ initiative and expand to include other citizens who are interested in this topic. We are aware that the energy and support behind our efforts was not only because members wanted PCC specifically, but that there is also a pent-up demand for more non-big box, interesting, local, retail options, and restaurants.”

The Facebook page continues to be a flurry of activity with new ideas. Many people have pointed to projects including Melrose Market in Seattle and Pybus Public Market in Wenatchee for inspiration.

It’s easy to see why some islanders hope that such a concept might be brought to Mercer Island:

Others have also discussed Pybus Public Market as a hope for Mercer Island’s Town Center on the popular community forum, Nextdoor. Island resident Carrie Scull posted a letter she wrote to the City Council in March 2015 suggesting Pybus as a model to consider for Mercer Island’ s town center.

But where such a development would be located on Mercer Island has not been as clear. The only obvious location is the property at SE 29th St and 78th Ave SE formerly of interest to property developer Hines, which terminated their purchase-and-sale agreement after their inclusion in an extended moratorium on all new building permits for development in the Town Center.

Yet this is also private property of three separately owned parcels. It unquestionably took a significant dollar amount and negotiating power for Hines to secure the property.

Whether the Lucky 7 can bring together a cooperative group of islanders to secure this property for their own vision is a big question, which I posed to Sanderson.

She did not comment on the property location but wrote: “True feasibility will only be known once we talk to all pertinent parties: community investors, private property owners, potential local developers, and civic leaders. We are reorganizing our volunteer management team to include development and legal expertise. We have a separate advisory committee for a co-operative grocer project.”

Though big questions remain, this is a movement that is not only inspirational but also thoughtful and professionally organized and may just be something everyone get behind.

If you would like to get involved, here are a few places to start:

1) Join CO-OPportunity Facebook Page
2) Email ideas to: [email protected]

What are your thoughts on a community-driven development for Mercer Island’s Town Center?