By Amy Wenk and Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 24, 2016
Publix Super Markets Inc. is eyeing the Atlanta Civic Center as the site of a new intown grocery store.
Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors is in advanced talks with Publix to anchor its planned $450 million redevelopment of the aging civic center, according to sources.
Weingarten has the 19-acre site at Piedmont Avenue and Ralph McGill Boulevard under contract for $30 million from the city of Atlanta. It plans to demolish the civic center’s existing buildings and build 250,000 square feet of office space, 222,900 square feet of retail, a grocery store, 250 condos, 386 apartments and townhomes.
Bill Coats, Weingarten Realty Investors’ vice president and senior regional director of development, in a phone interview on June 20, said he could not comment about potential talks with Publix.
He did share the progress on the project, which aims to open its first phase in 2019.
“We have been optimistic all along and intend to move forward with the project,” Coats said. “Our plan is that we would be closed by the end of the year and start on demolition.”
Coats said the grocery store could draw demand from downtown and Georgia State University, along with Midtown apartment dwellers. He cited the project is about a mile away from Ponce City Market, which has seen success in landing top-tier restaurateurs and retailers.
In a statement, Publix spokeswoman Brenda Reid said, “We only comment on properties with signed leases. At this time, we do not have a confirmed lease … on the Civic Center site.”
The civic center is one of two large city-owned properties poised for redevelopment, but both have been beset with complications.
In May, Atlanta Business Chronicle reported delays in the sales of both the civic center and Underground Atlanta. At the time, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had said the civic center deal was “a little shaky.”
Reed seemed far more optimistic in a June 17 interview.
“I’m feeling better about the civic center,” Reed said after the quarterly board meeting of the Atlanta Committee for Progress. “Weingarten enhanced the offer by $1 million to have another 90 days.”
Reed added he was more pleased with Weingarten’s current proposal than initial plans. Yet, he added he didn’t feel urgency on it.
“Because of the market now, the civic center will sell one way or another,” he said.
If Publix signs a deal at the civic center, it’s unclear how that would impact an existing store at Piedmont and North avenues. Publix leases space for that store and another at Midtown Plaza near Technology Square.
Publix could be looking at a much larger location for the civic center, possibly about 60,000 square feet, according to plans submitted by Weingarten.
Publix’s competitor Kroger is also helping anchor intown mixed-use projects with larger store formats. That includes new stores along the Beltline Eastside Trail next to Ponce City Market, one at Glenwood Place along Glenwoood Avenue and another in Buckhead at Lindbergh Place.
In metro Atlanta, Publix has other projects in the works in Smyrna, west Buckhead and Gainesville.
The city is seeing its largest expansion of new grocery stores since the 1990s. Among other grocers adding intown Atlanta locations are Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market and Earth Fare.