Phenix City's Riverchase Drive to see new commercial prospects

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 19, 2014 

David Epperly believes he's on the leading edge of a new wave of development in the Riverchase Drive area of Phenix City.

That's why, despite looking at the location a few years ago and driving away, he decided now is the time for an Epperly Tire and Auto Center, which is under construction on a lot near Publix-anchored Phenix Crossing shopping center. Construction is underway and it should be open by June.

"I don't have a vehicle count," he said. "But I did get Goodyear to do the demographics, and that area in a 3-mile radius came in as the second-highest income area of all the stores that I have. I was really surprised."

It was second to Epperly's auto center on Schomburg Road in Columbus. He also has Columbus stores on Auburn Avenue and on Whittlesey Road, both of those surrounded by retail, restaurants and plenty of vehicle traffic.

Epperly said another factor that played into his decision was the development of Greystone at Riverchase, a Greystone Properties development that is now leasing units as they become available following construction. There are 224 units, which should multiply out with family members to several hundred residents.

"We should be completed with the entire development in May. Leasing has done well," said Will White, managing partner with Greystone Properties, a leading apartment firm in Columbus with several complexes. "It's actually above our expectations and we're pleased with the results."

White said the quality and pricing of his apartments is part of the reason they were filling up easily. But the location in general is another major reason.

"We're in Lee County. We're in Phenix City. We're right off the bypass. You have Publix just down the street," he said. "That always happens, that as you bring apartments and more people into an area, then retail will follow behind that. Very rarely do you have retail in advance in that."

Carson Cummings, a commercial real-estate broker with Coldwell Banker/Kennon, Parker, Duncan & Davis, said he's not surprised that Riverchase Drive, which stretches from Summerville Road south to just past the major interchange with U.S. Highway 80 (J.R. Allen Parkway on the Columbus side), is heating up.

"If you look at the demographics and everything, that's probably one of the essential spots for the largest concentration of wealth in Phenix City, with Rock Island (subdivision) and everything else," he said. "That Publix does well. It's a smaller Publix, but I think from the sales numbers, it does good. CVS, we've looked at those numbers and it's ramped up three years in a row. Everybody over there seems to be doing pretty good."

Cummings said he's currently in negotiations with a convenience store and gas station that would go in the lot between Epperly's auto center and Publix. He has tried to land a restaurant, but none have stepped up to the plate, although Phenix Crossing will soon have a Tombo's Chicken and Seafood, while a Pizza Hut carryout store opened last fall in a small center across Summerville Road.

Then there's the really big fish that has yet to be hooked overlooking the Chattahoochee River. Phenix City developer Mike Bowden has been working to pull together a mix of luxury apartments, retail, restaurants and hotels at the Riverchase/Highway 80 interchange for about two years.

Asked Friday if he thinks this will be the year that dirt is turned on a portion of the project, which is expected to take several years to build out, he said yes.

"We have great dreams and great hopes," he said. "We view that area as an extremely important gateway of not only Georgia, but maybe the Southeast, into Phenix City, Ala. We dream of some high-quality development that will greatly enhance the image of Phenix City."

A Loopnet real-estate site shows Bowden is marketing 200 acres valued at a total price tag of just under $131 million. It can be divided up, the listing says, with outparcels available, as well as tracts of land ranging from 5 to 35 acres.

"Current traffic counts of approximately 55,000 cars with future projections of 85,000," it says.

The entire master-planned commercial development is very close to Rock Island Landing, the subdivision he developed years ago and where he now resides.

"I'm a lifelong Phenix Citizen, and I'm very proud of my town," he said. "Lord be willing, we're going to do some great things."

Bowden declined to discuss specifics concerning negotiations. Asked if warehouse club Costco or Bass Pro Shop -- both perennial favorites of consumers -- might be part of the mix, he chuckled.

"We'll see. We're working. All I can tell you is we're trying," he said. "We'll see how it all plays out. The economy is improving."

Riverchase Drive, not far from the popular Idle Hour Park in Phenix City, also is home to Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital, Steeple Crest apartments, McIntosh Estates subdivision and an office park.

The increasing traffic along the corridor, along with the potential new development, is likely to put a strain eventually on the two-lane roadway, which currently has no traffic lights. Wallace Hunter, city manager of Phenix City, said a traffic study is now under way.

"We will have everything in place to be able to react to anything that could happen there," he said.

As for Epperly, he already has a wish for the area, particularly that lot next to his should the convenience store not materialize.

"I think a Starbucks would be wonderful," he said. "That would work out really well with us. But some type of restaurant that doesn't have a large footprint could go in there."

Staff writer Chuck Williams contributed to this report.

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