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Publix still coming to Boro; shopping center 40% pre-leased
Van Tassell: Rain, more than virus, caused road delays
Work continues at the site of the future Publix grocery store and the Tormenta stadium on Wed., April 29. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Bob Peck, Watkins Retail Group’s vice president of development, said Tuesday that the company still plans to build a Publix supermarket as part of its Eagles Corner Shopping Center on Tormenta Way at Old Register Road.

“Our goal is to break ground by the end of the year,” Peck told the Statesboro Herald.

A 48,000-square-foot Publix grocery store and pharmacy is planned, along with more than 14,000 square feet of attached shopping center buildings, plus two outparcels. The shopping center will be divided into about 10 shops for lease to local retailers. Restaurants are typically built on outparcels.

Peck’s original goal, last fall, had been for the Eagles Corner construction to be underway by now for completion in November 2020 through January 2021. So the new goal is to begin construction around the time he originally hoped it would be complete.

A stadium complex for the Tormenta FC soccer teams is the proposed centerpiece of a larger commercial and retail development within the Old Register Road Tax Allocation District.  But the Publix announcement last year drew just as much attention.

Since then, rain has caused major delays in road improvements necessary to provide access to the shopping center. Mill Creek Construction, hired by the separate group of Old Register Road TAD investors led by South Georgia Tormenta FC President Darin Van Tassell, continues work to widen Old Register Road, which will also get an improved intersection and a new traffic light system at Veterans Memorial Parkway.

Tormenta Way, the new access road parallel to the parkway, was paved in February, with the exception of the part that will tie in with Old Register Road.

“Even during this time, the weather has probably slowed down the roads more than the virus has at this stage,” Van Tassell said Wednesday. “The weather really knocked us back four or five months, but I do expect them – and they expect – to be finished in May, certainly no later than early June, with all of the public infrastructure pieces.”

January had been the original paving deadline. But rain days from November to early March posed “a rough little stretch for outdoor construction,” he said.


‘Plenty of interest’

Of course, most recently the coronavirus pandemic has been the dominant factor in virtually everything having to do with the economy.

But with more people cooking at home, supermarkets have been doing well, Van Tassell noted.

Peck also acknowledged this, and said Watkins Retail Group and Publix are undeterred from building here.

“Publix wants to get stores open, for sure,” Peck said. “I mean, there’s a little stress right now on retail space, as a lot of the national retailers are putting stuff on hold for obvious reasons. Mainly it’s a 30-to-60-day hold to kind of see what’s going to go on.”

He said he wasn’t including Publix in his observation about retail space, but meant that national companies such as fast-food restaurant chains are in “a holding pattern” with even their real estate people working from home.

“But other than that, we’ve got plenty of interest in the site, and Publix is ready to move forward,” Peck added.


40% pre-leased

About 40% of the 14,000 square feet of the non-Publix space in the planned Eagles Corner Shopping Center has  been pre-leased at this point, and letters of intent are pending on both of the outparcels,  he said. In other words, Watkins Retail Group has offers from potential commercial tenants. He did not identify specific companies.

Watkins, which purchased a 12.2-acre parcel for construction of the shopping center, will retain ownership and lease the stores to Publix and other retailers. 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.

In November, Peck described the shopping center announcement as the culmination of a more than seven-year quest to bring Publix back to Statesboro.


How about the stadium?

Tormenta Way will provide access to the shopping center, which will be between the new road and Veterans Memorial Parkway. The Tormenta Stadium complex is planned for nearer Van Tassell’s existing business, The Clubhouse family recreation center.

He had aimed at a 2021 season opening for the stadium. At this point he is not making predictions about a completion date but says the stadium will be built as soon as possible.

“None of the dynamics have changed,” Van Tassell said. “We have to have a stadium, the stadium is going right where we’ve said it’s going. We have been waiting on the public infrastructure piece to get done, and we still look forward to the stadium coming out of the ground A.S.A.P.”

But he acknowledged that all of the related businesses are on pandemic-related “pause” at the moment. The Clubhouse remains closed except for to-go orders from its restaurant. Tormenta’s USL League One and USL League Two teams’ 2020 seasons are still suspended, awaiting further United Soccer League announcements.

The stadium investors have been looking at options such as whether parts of the complex can be built first and others later, he said.

“No plans have changed in that regard,” Van Tassell said. “It might feel like it’s on ‘pause,’ for the short term, but just like everything else, we’re looking for that pause button to be shifted back to ‘play’ again.”


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