MANKATO — The south side of Mankato, including the area around Minnesota State University — an official "food desert" because of its lack of a supermarket — is moving closer to having at least a small oasis.
Hy-Vee is preparing to construct one of its new "Fast and Fresh" mini-stores at the corner of Stadium Road and Heron Drive just southeast of the MSU campus.
The City Council is expected to approve Monday night an amended sales agreement for some some city-owned land that will make up a portion of the building site for the new store, and Hy-Vee appears to have navigated the regulations around protection of a wetland on the parcel.
"We saw, in this area of Mankato, a chance to serve busy students and families with fresh, fast food options and prepared meals to help them 'fill the gaps' between their larger shopping trips and help them discover some new fresh and healthy meal options," said Tina Potthoff, vice president of communications for Iowa-based Hy-Vee, Inc., in a written response to questions from The Free Press.
The definition of a "food desert" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is an urban neighborhood that doesn't have a supermarket or large grocery store within one mile. The definition fits the apartment complexes around the campus and the housing subdivisions on the south side of the city, and the Hy-Vee Fast and Fresh — because it won't be a large grocery — probably won't eliminate the food-desert designation.
The store will offer more, however, than what the area has now. At just under 8,000 square feet, the store will be roughly double the size of the nearby Kwik Trip convenience store. By comparison, though, it's just a quarter of the size of the 33,000-square-foot downtown Hy-Vee store, the smaller of the chain's two existing Mankato supermarkets.
Hy-Vee Fast and Fresh stores are a brand new concept the chain is just starting to launch.
"Right now, we have three Fast & Fresh locations under construction in Altoona, Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa," Potthoff said. "The Mankato location is one of several locations we have in some stage of approval by local officials across our eight-state region."
The store will have a fresh produce section, "grocery essentials," a dairy department and fresh bakery items. Documents filed with the city also show a Starbucks coffee shop with a small seating area and a Mia Pizza counter where customers will be able to pick from a variety of fresh pizza toppings and have their personalized pie cooked in a wood-fired oven.
The store will offer Hy-Vee Mealtime kits, which provide fresh ingredients for a meal that's assembled and cooked at home.
And for residents in the area looking for foods available only at the larger supermarkets, the store is slated to have the "Hy-Vee Aisles Online" system. A shopping list submitted online will be compiled by Hy-Vee workers and left in a locker outside the new Fast and Fresh for shoppers to pick up on their way home from work or class, Potthoff said.
Dates haven't been set for the start of construction or the planned opening of the store, which will also have six gas pumps and access drives from both Stadium Road and Heron Drive. Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel said the regulatory and land sale work should be completed next month, and he hopes to see construction start this construction season.
"We're looking for that final approval to come in June," Vogel said. "That should leave plenty of time to at least get the building started."
Vogel said Hy-Vee did well in handling the wetland issues and also addressing concerns from nearby residents about the need for a berm or vegetative screening and reduction of glare from the store's outdoor lights.