Pioneered in 2004 by State Rep. Dwight Evans and backed by then-Gov. Ed Rendell, the Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) broke through such resistance by directing aid to projects in so-called food deserts like Brewerytown.
Until two years ago, that is, when Bottom Dollar Foods needed $2 million to build, finally, a new supermarket atop a demolished brewery at 31st Street and Girard Avenue.
The vaunted program could no longer help the way it had. The oasis of food-desert funds had been drained of dollars, dried up by a shift in political power in Harrisburg and a recession that drastically curbed state spending.
"There are no more grant dollars," Christina Sczepanski, program manager of fresh-food access at the Reinvestment Fund, said in a recent interview. The fund had disbursed millions in FFFI dollars until it largely went dry in 2010.
"We were on the extreme back end of this project," Sczepanski said, with TRF allocating only an estimated $65,000 for a preliminary market study and design work for a grocery in Brewerytown.
Instead, it was city officials who scrapped for and found the $2 million needed to make the deal go through. They tapped unused bonds to clear buried debris.
No longer was Pennsylvania's grant program the game changer it had briefly become.
From 2004 to 2007, Rendell's Department of Community and Economic Development channeled $30 million in grants to TRF, which raised millions more for the pool of available capital.
By September 2009, FFFI had committed $59.7 million in grants and loans to 78 food-market projects across the state, according to a spring 2010 newsletter by Evans.
Aid was direct grants to projects or subsidies for "unusual costs" such as environmental remediation, said Patricia L. Smith, a TRF senior policy adviser.
But when the Commerce Department discussed Brewerytown with TRF about two years ago, the Nutter administration came away mostly empty-handed.
"What they needed was grant dollars," Smith said, "and we didn't have any grant dollars because the program had ended."
All that remains today is about $3 million in below-market-interest-rate loans for low- to moderate-income areas underserved by fresh grocers, said Sczepanski.
Contact Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @panaritism.