Watkins Retail Group, the real estate company that will build a Publix supermarket as part of its Eagles Corner Shopping Center, had been trying for more than seven years to bring Publix back to Statesboro.
“It’s been a long process,” Bob Peck, Watkins Retail Group’s vice president of development, said Friday. “We’ve been working to get Publix back into the Statesboro community for well over seven years, if not longer. We’ve had a couple of sites that we’ve taken to Publix that have been rejected in the past, and finally we hit.”
The accepted site is on Old Register Road near Veterans Memorial Parkway.
One of the previously considered sites ended up becoming the new J.C. Lewis Ford dealership location, inside the parkway – also known as the bypass – on the corner with U.S. Highway 301 South. The other was near another car dealership, Franklin Chevrolet, between Northside Drive East and a never-built access road to its north.
What made the difference this time, Peck said, was the plan by Darin Van Tassell, president of the South Georgia Tormenta FC soccer franchise, and other investors in the Old Register Road Tax Allocation District, or TAD. Van Tassell and other investors are committed to building the new Tormenta Stadium – with seats for 5,300 spectators for games but up to 14,000 people for concerts and similar events – within sight of the shopping center.
Other envisioned developments include a movie theater, at least one hotel, restaurants, more shops, office suites and loft apartments, with private investment projected to surpass $160 million.
With the prospect of the resulting property tax and sales tax revenue, Van Tassell’s investment group convinced Statesboro City Council to create the nearly 250-acre TAD. This committed $4.75 million in property tax revenue from growth there after Dec. 31, 2018, to repay the developers for the public infrastructure work, especially road construction.
Eagles Corner Shopping Center will occupy a 12.2-acre parcel that Watkins Retail Group purchased. Watkins will retain ownership and lease the stores to Publix and other retailers. “A lot of the credit goes to Darin and his vision with Tormenta Stadium and everything,” Peck said. “That was a critical factor, that and all of the infrastructure that’s being put in place to help facilitate not only our deal but Darin’s deal as well as the surrounding properties and the university.”
Watkins and Publix also looked at Statesboro’s demographics and chose a site with fewer stores and more residents.
“The bulk of the retail is up on the northeast side of town, yet your population base is on the southwest side of town, and we just always felt like the store should be located on Veterans Parkway,” Peck said.
Based in Atlanta and Orlando, Watkins Real Estate Group has commercial and residential divisions, and the commercial side mainly develops Publix-anchored shopping centers.
Publix, based in Lakeland, Florida, operates more than 1,200 stores in the southeastern United States. A Publix supermarket operated in the University Commons shopping center on Northside Drive East for a few years in the 1990s. It closed more than 20 years ago.
New Publix design
The 48,000-square-foot Publix at Eagles Corner will be the company’s “new prototype” design and will have a pharmacy drive-thru, Peck said. In addition to the supermarket, Eagles Corner will include approximately 16,000 square feet of locally rentable shop space.
That could typically be divided into about 12 shops measuring 1,300 to 1,400 square feet each, but Peck has already heard from a restaurant group wanting a larger space, he said.
“I would say that in the next few weeks we’ll probably be somewhere around 30 percent pre-leased,” he said.
His goal is to have 100 percent leased before the center is built. Peck said he had received four or five calls since the sign went up Thursday
Incidentally, one side of the sign gave the shopping center’s name as Eagles Landing, and that was the name the Herald initially reported. But Peck said the correct name will be Eagles Corner and that he will have the sign corrected.
In addition to the shopping center totaling about 65,000 square feet, Watkins will offer two outparcels, typically about 5,000 square feet each, for other commercial projects, such as freestanding restaurants.
Peck said his company’s goal is to break ground in first quarter and open the shopping center 10 months later. In other words, construction should start sometime January-March 2020 and be complete sometime November 2020 through January 2021.
“That would be our goal, but I need to get a more definitive timeline on when the infrastructure improvements will be in place,” he said.
Mill Creek Construction is building new lanes onto a stretch of Old Register Road beginning at Veterans Memorial Parkway and also building a new road, Tormenta Way, which will run parallel to the parkway. Eagles Corner Shopping Center will be at the intersection of Tormenta Way and Old Register Road.
Turn lanes will also be added on Veterans Memorial Parkway at the intersection. The Georgia Department of Transportation approved plans this summer for the lanes and a traffic light system.
“The roads are coming along really, really well … absolutely on schedule,” Van Tassell said Thursday. “The utilities are in the ground. Utilities take a long time to move, by the way.”
His investor group, JGR Development, which owns about 225 acres in the TAD, not including the 12.2 acres sold to Watkins, is paying for the roads and other infrastructure, and being reimbursed by the city from a low-interest bank loan. The loan, in turn, will be repaid from the TAD revenue, and JGR Development must deed the roads and pipelines to the city.
Van Tassell said the roads should be paved before the end of December.
Stadium by 2021
Tormenta Stadium, however, will not be built in time for the soccer season beginning in March 2020 as he had originally hoped.
The stadium’s design has been changed to add a permanent stage, making it more in demand as a concert venue, Van Tassell said.
“The design has taken a little bit longer, perhaps, than we wanted to, but we absolutely plan on being there in the 2021 season,” he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.