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2 new groceries in Statesboro?
City approves traffic projects to clear the way
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Two traffic projects that received Statesboro City Council support Tuesday will accommodate proposed new grocery stores and other businesses.

A planned $14 million addition to the Market District is the further along of the two commercial developments. The requested traffic improvement consists of adding a traffic light at the intersection of Brampton Avenue and Fair Road.

A separate shopping center, involving a planned investment of more than $28 million by Armstrong Development on land now owned by the Bland family, requires a new intersection on Veterans Memorial Parkway, also known as the U.S. 301 Bypass, between Northside Drive East and Jones Mill Road.

In a total development covering about 25 acres, the main shopping center will provide 130,000 square feet of retail space and feature a grocery store as one of its anchor businesses, said Nick Propps of Statesboro Properties. Interviewed later Tuesday, Propps represents the Blands and in their deal with Armstrong Development.

“We are bringing a grocery store that the community has requested,” Propps said.

The new stores would partially fulfill an unmet need for $56 million worth of annual grocery capacity identified in March in a city-ordered study by the firm Retail Strategies.

In both instances, representatives of property owners and potential buyers are not saying yet what grocery chains will occupy the new centers. In the case of the Bland property, negotiations are continuing with the food store company, Propps said. He did not have a timeline yet for the center’s completion.

New intersection

Chuck Perry of EMC Engineering Services carried the request for the new intersection to City Council. The plan calls for a full median cut on Veterans Memorial Parkway, giving two-way access to and from the property, plus a right-in, right-out access point.

With a slide show map of the area around Northside Drive East and the bypass, Perry gave council members a “time machine” ride from 1993 to 2013, illustrating how street improvements, from the construction of the bypass itself through Brannen Street Extension and Buckhead Drive, have led to more businesses, from Lowe’s more than 15 years ago to, in the most recent burst of development, Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, some new banks and Vaden Nissan. Meanwhile, nothing was happening with the Bland tract, Perry observed.

“Everybody wants connectivity,” he said. “Connectivity leads to traffic; traffic leads to business. It’s just the way it happens.”

With Armstrong Development to pay for the new streets, council members quickly agreed to submit an application to the Georgia Department of Transportation for the median cut on Veterans Memorial Parkway. Phil Boyum made the motion, Will Britt seconded, and the vote was unanimous.

City Planning and Development Director Mandi Cody then noted that her department had submitted some possible conditions on the development to the mayor and council.

However, Boyum noted that the conditions did not affect the median cut, and Mayor Jan Moore said these could wait. Beyond the current application, the project calls for access to the Wal-Mart intersection on Northside Drive and for privately developed streets to be donated to the city.

Market District

Meanwhile, the Market District’s developers, as the seller, and the Hutton Company, as the buyer, plan to add a 41,000-square-foot grocery store under a national brand. It will be part of a nine-acre development that will also include a fueling center and another retail space measuring 15,000 square feet, said Hutton Company Real Estate Director Brad Combs. The site is behind McDonald’s on Fair Road.

The Hutton Company offered to pay for the traffic light at Brampton Avenue but asked that the city reimburse it for the cost from its fiscal year 2016 capital improvement budget.

“It is critical that this traffic light be installed and be fully operational before our opening, which is currently scheduled for late January,” Combs said.

The company had paid about $19,000 for a traffic study and engineering costs, and is not seeking reimbursement of these.

Since the Market District was formed 12 years ago, the 85-acre development has increased its property values from $5 million to $47 million, said Doug Lambert, who spoke to City Council for the Market District owners.

 “Since then, the developers have spent over $1 million on infrastructure, which we consider our skin in the game,” he said.

That infrastructure was required by the city in the Market District’s master plan, but the proposed traffic light was not, Lambert said.

The new grocery store alone is projected to create 85-95 new jobs and generate sales of about $15 million annually, the developers project.

For the traffic light installation, the city’s agenda listed a “not to exceed” cost of $110,000. But that was the amount already budgeted for it in fiscal year 2016 of the city’s long-term Capital Improvement Program. A more recent estimate from a traffic signal installer was $142,340, but City Engineer Robert Cheshire said he expects the actual cost to be between those two amounts.

Hutton’s request led to a council discussion of why one developer would be reimbursed and not the other.

“What’s the difference?” asked Britt, saying he wanted this point clarified for the public. “Why is it one of them we’re paying for and one of them we’re agreeing to?”

The Brampton Avenue light was already a city-identified project. A traffic study done for the city showed it was warranted on the basis of current four-hour traffic volume, Assistant City Engineer Brad Deal had reported.

The new development is expected to add 4,000 cars per day, Lambert said. When Moore asked if it would be a deal breaker if the city would not reimburse the traffic light cost, Combs said it would be.

On a motion from Britt, seconded by Councilman Travis Chance, council unanimously approved reimbursing the Hutton Company $110,000 in fiscal year 2016 and up to $32,400 in fiscal year 2017 for traffic signal installation.

Whether the development company accepts this phased reimbursement remains to be seen, Moore said.

Britt also suggested that the developers ask county officials whether the county would cover part of the costs, in light of tax revenue the project will generate for the county.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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