Not Publix (yet), but has downtown grown enough for a new grocer?
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- When Sandra Miller opened Mystic Modes Day Spa seven years ago, the Market Street Bridge hadn't been renovated yet. "They'd just broken ground for the condos," she says. "The North Shore wasn't today's North Shore."
But, she believes, the neighborhood is ready for exactly the 'next step' that Atlanta's ARS Ventures has proposed for the property almost directly across her street, at North Market & Manning.
"Getting a Publix is going to help tremendously," Miller says. "Some of the businesses that haven't been seen previously will be able to be seen now by people who hadn't come up and down the road."
ARS' local representative, Tommy Austin, won't confirm that Florida-based Publix is the supermarket chain involved. "But the 'interested party' is looking at something pretty close to what Publix has in Hixson," he concedes.
ARS has filed a plan with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. It calls for a 45,000 square feet, full-service upscale supermarket with 220 parking spaces.
"I guess we finally have hit critical mass," says Kim White, President/CEO of the River City Company, a downtown economic development and planning agency. "When you have 12,000 people at UT-Chattanooga, and 55,000 people who work downtown, there's definitely a need for a full service grocery."
Recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau underscore the argument. They estimate more than 2100 people have moved inside the Chattanooga city limits in the last two years, a net population growth of 1.46 percent. That makes Chattanooga the fastest-growing, of Tennessee's four major metropolitan areas.
"This store would feed more than the North Shore," White says. "It's on a public bus route. And having it sends a message to others that if its owners decided they needed to be here, maybe we need to also."
Spokesperson Brenda Reid tells Channel 3 that Publix does not confirm, or even discuss expansion plans until deals are reached.
Austin confirms that the North Shore deal requires acquiring parcels from five property owners.
"Part of it will need to be rezoned, " he says. "And we'd be shutting down that 300-foot stretch of Manning, east of North Market. We're not there yet."
Several retail businesses also would need to move, including Nell's, an upscale home-furnishing supplier, and the 'K' women's clothing boutique.
'K's owner, Katherine Roberts Burger, has declined comment, citing her landlord's ongoing negotiations. Nell's owner, Jimmy Adams, hasn't returned phone calls.
"We want to add a stoplight," Austin tells Channel 3. "We want to work with the neighborhood; become part of the neighborhood."
The planning commission holds a hearing on the required zoning changes August 13. Plans also require approval from the Chattanooga City Council.
"We'd like to break ground by Spring," Austin says. "That means we could open by Christmas."
Miller is hopeful, based on what she's seen. And heard. "We have that Walgreen's, on Frazier, and it blends in," she says. "With some tasteful architecture, 'I think it could work."