Developer hoping to land Kroger for Assembly Street

dhinshaw@thestate.comMarch 3, 2014 

The developer of Columbia’s historic Capital City Stadium is now looking to land a Kroger grocery store in a proposal that has some neighborhood advocates feeling “heartened” over compromises at the site.

A preliminary plan also shows apartments and a below-ground parking garage along Assembly Street, plus shops and restaurants designed to appeal to college students and others living nearby.

Importantly to community leaders who have been brought in on the discussions, the developer has agreed to pay for flood-reduction features and a trail on the property that eventually would help connect Five Points to the Congaree River near the historic Granby textile mill.

“I think we’ve got a plan now that we’re all happy with and willing to go forward with,” said Matt Sasser, the Atlanta developer with Bright-Meyers 2001 LLC.

Tuesday, Sasser is asking Columbia City Council to extend his $1 million contract to buy the tract, just shy of 6 acres, giving him until May 8 to work out details of his proposal. Sasser’s efforts to attract a Walmart to the site failed two years ago amid the intense scrutiny of residents and environmentalists.

Ryan Nevius, with the nonprofit Sustainable Midlands, said the group is disappointed with the large, suburban size of the proposed grocery store but appreciates the addition of apartments and retail.

And she promised neighborhood groups would “be there with a microscope” to review flood-control and water quality elements. Land nearby routinely floods, problems that Nevius said risk the public health and safety.

Efforts to reach a representative with Kroger’s real estate development office in Atlanta were unsuccessful.

Nevius said her group, including neighborhood leaders, negotiated a textile mill architectural design for the grocery store made of brick with large windows and a tower.

Pushed to the back of the property, it would be 113,500 square feet – larger than the 90,000-square foot Walmart once proposed for the site, Nevius said.

A gasoline station would mimic the store’s architectural elements, with the site also including a separate, 2-acre parcel at Assembly Street and Ferguson Avenue. On that corner, Sasser said he would seek a sit-down restaurant not yet in the market, plus a couple of shops.

The final design and number of apartments has yet to be determined. Sasser said he is in talks with a couple of residential developers to complete that portion of the project.

“Overall, the urban design and the flood design seems to be much better,” said Nevius, who butted heads with the city on the Walmart project.

Nearby resident Vi Hendley said she’s ambivalent because of the loss of trees, the size of the store and the potential for the store to be open around-the-clock.

“I really was surprised by the lack of design, the unwillingness to go outside of, ‘This is what we do,’” Hendley added. “I don’t want to be perceived as someone who wants to stop development, but good development needs to be happening.”

The city’s planning director, Krista Hampton, said details ultimately would be approved by the City Council and included in the contract to sell the property.

On another front, Nevius is pressing for development of a city-county plan for the redevelopment of south Assembly Street, some of which has an industrial flavor.

“We have a chance to develop, from the State House to the stadium, a boulevard,” she said. “Our southern gateway.”

Columbia City Council will take up that issue at a 2 p.m. work session Tuesday at City Hall.

Richland Councilman Seth Rose, meanwhile, suggested a city-county plan for the mill villages months ago. He said Monday he would like to see the proposal enlarged to take in the Assembly Street corridor.

The city limits run through the historic mill villages, so part of it is governed by the city and part by Richland County.

“We really need to get together to come up with one plan to chart the future of this historic area,” Rose said. Among the issues he would like to see addressed are land use, parking and historic preservation.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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