Jackson Square will be home to new supermarket in the spring when Nations Fresh Food completes a $7 million renovation to space at the west end of the mall near Bay and Market streets.

The Nations full-service supermarket will cover 55,000 square feet.

Nations Fresh Food is owned by the Oceans Fresh Food Market.

Oceans operates four stores — two in Brampton and two in Mississauga and is planning more locations.

The company promotes itself as the store "where east meets west."

It will carry a wide variety of international foods, a large fresh fish market, meat and deli counters, extensive fruit and vegetable markets, a large salad bar, an in-store bakery and prepared foods for eat-in and take-out.

For Mayor Bob Bratina it is more than a supermarket, it's a measure of a changing city.

"As the mayor, I can’t be more excited," Bratina told CBC Hamilton Thursday.

"It’s a real symbol. It tells us that out-of-town people are willing to make a $7 million investment," the mayor said.

"We’re building a new Hamilton and a new perception of Hamilton."

A boost for urban renewal

The city had long been hoping for a supermarket to invest downtown. Private sector proposals may have been stymied due to a perception of a small customer base and lack of purchasing power, Bratina said.

Glen Norton, the city's manager of urban renewal, has been working to bring a supermarket into the space for about two years.

In June, Norton had proposed that the city offer a $650,000 grant as an incentive for a private company to build a store in the space. The city tabled the proposal and asked that the budget be amended.

Now that the Nations supermarket will be coming to Jackson Square independently, the city won’t have to worry about allocating funds for it. Instead, the money can be used for other urban renewal projects.

"It’s exciting," said Jason Farr, the councillor for the city’s centre. "Downtown just got a $650,000 injection."

The newly available funds could go toward the Social Navigator project, to help people who are struggling with addictions or are committing petty crimes, Farr said. "I would love to immediately expand that."

He said he’d also love to sit down with Norton and the urban renewal department to hear their ideas too, he said.

The department has a long "wish list," Norton said. Items on that list include enhancing public lighting in the downtown core and moving ahead with rebuilding in Gore Park, he said.

Not monopolizing the market

The Nations store will be unique because it offers such an expansive variety of products in one central location.

"We have grocery stores downtown," Norton said. "But we’re talking about a supermarket." The wide range of products it will offer "are what’s missing from downtown," he said.

Farr said he sees plenty of "room for more" large grocery stores or marketplaces.

Perhaps in the Beasley or Corktown neighbourhoods, he said.

The city could use a food co-op store, which would include a bunch of community partners, he said. "That would work really well, I think."

Nations in Jackson Square will serve international foods. The other Oceans stores are European in style, but have grocery aisles named after countries throughout Southeast Asia and the West Indies, which carry the corresponding nations’ foods.

Farr believes there’s also "plenty of room" for international foods stores to prosper.

"I’d like to see this as a driver — to expand the theme [of international foods in downtown]," he said. "So that people can come to downtown for lots of diversity."