The Associated Press reported that Atlantic City would soon have its first supermarket in 15 years, when a government agency stepped in with nearly $19 million of public funding as the private sector declined.

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The state-run Casino Reinvestment Development Authority broke ground on Thursday, which is already owned by ShopRite, the new supermarket located a few blocks away from the casino. The agency will retain ownership of the building and all its fixtures and will be operated by a private company, Village Super Market Inc.

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“For 15 years, Atlantic City’s dining options have been limited to bodega and smaller corner markets that offer some healthier options,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “Everything the families need will be right here. We’re finally going to water this food desert.”

The last supermarket, an IGA, closed 15 years ago in an area where a planned redevelopment never took place.

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The shutdown has made it especially difficult for families trying to feed themselves and their children healthy meals, said Atlantic City mother Aliyah Cheris, who spoke on behalf of women-led families.

City residents have to either drive, take a bus or commercial transport to supermarkets on the mainland, a time-consuming, often costly proposition, she said.

The construction is expected to start next year and will take 13 to 15 months.

The huge state investment was critical to completing the project, said Matt Doherty, executive director of the reinvestment agency.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

“Without massive public subsidies, no grocery store would be ready to build in Atlantic City,” he said. “The numbers don’t work. Atlantic City has huge pockets of poverty; some census areas have 60 percent of people living in poverty. It has to be a publicly funded project for this to happen.”

State Senate President Steve Sweeney said, “Not everyone lined up to be here.”

Village Super Market chairman Bill Sumas did not say after the ceremony whether the project could have been completed without public funding. Village, a publicly traded company with annual sales of more than $1.6 billion, operates 30 ShopRite stores in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Cheris said the new supermarket “will take the burden off of our community’s patriarchs”. “I thank you for seeing the opportunity and the value we have here in Atlantic City.”

The supermarket will be built on the northern Ohio and Baltic avenues.