Columbus real-estate broker Wes Lewis acknowledges there is no shortage of suggestions he receives from residents desiring the next great retailer or restaurant not already in the local market.
“I’ve gotten a ton of calls from the female population, and they have given me a list of tenants they would like to see that are not in Columbus,” said Lewis, senior vice president and asset manager with Columbus-based Adams Brokerage Co., which has had a hand in developing much of the property in and around Columbus Park Crossing.
“I have relayed that information to not only the brokers of those tenants, but to the internal real-estate representatives of each of those companies,” he said. “And we’re diligently trying to get some of those companies that are not in Columbus at all into the market.”
In fact, Lewis was in Orlando, Fla., a couple of months ago for a conference, along with 5,300 other development-industry types, working to gauge the overall temperature of retail and restaurant expansion, as well as the odds of anyone wanting and needing to be in the Columbus market.
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“There are a number of tenants that are not in this market and have wanted to be here for a long time,” said the real-estate executive, who believes there remain some areas of the market that are under-retailed and don’t have enough restaurants.
The city, for the most part, has expanded its national and regional food and retail offerings greatly with the creation of Columbus Park Crossing and other development around the dynamic hub off Veterans Parkway and near J.R. Allen Parkway.
But some notable names still elude the area. On the restaurant table, they include P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Joe’s Crab Shack, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Yard House, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Maggiano’s Little Italy, The Cheesecake Factory, The Capital Grille and Seasons 52.
On the retail side, local customers have been clamoring for Costco Wholesale for years, which would compete with Walmart’s Sam’s Clubs. Several local developers, including Lewis, said the Seattle-based company has looked for locations here but is yet to decide if and when it will set up shop. Another retailer that has been on the wishlists of outdoors lovers is Bass Pro Shop, which recently announced its buyout of competitor Cabella’s. A Super Target also has been discussed for the Columbus market in the past, specifically in the Midland area.
For Lewis, it’s somewhat like a puzzle, finding the right retail or restaurant piece to fit in the market and survive long term. Last summer, Adams Brokerage lost one of its longtime tenants, Ruby Tuesday, which downsized its overall company footprint. The land and building at the corner of Veterans Parkway and Adams Farm Drive — a prime piece of high-visibility property — suddenly became available. Tennessee-based Ruby Tuesday was leasing the location.
“I won’t have any problem leasing it,” said Lewis, not naming any prospects. “I do have waiting lists of folks that would like to be in some of our properties, but for different reasons we haven’t pulled the trigger to develop some things yet. ... We would like to put in a nice, new viable tenant that may be not in the market, or maybe they are in the market and they just want to reposition.”
Commercial real-estate broker Ed Adams said he understands Chick-fil-A has been looking very hard in the Columbus Park Crossing area for a new location to feed its legions of chicken sandwich and waffle fry fans. That possibly could mean going into the old Ruby Tuesday spot or the nearby USAA financial office, which the company has said will close by next April.
“They want to be on Veterans Parkway,” Adams, a broker with Coldwell Banker/Kennon, Parker, Duncan & Davis, said of Chick-fil-A. “In the best-case scenario, it would be to find someone that can utilize the existing (Ruby Tuesday) space. But with these chain restaurants, they have their set floor plans. Any big name would probably come in and completely demo the building and build their own prototype.”
Like Lewis, Adams said his company is seeing retailers and restaurants wanting to be in the city, particularly in hot, heavily trafficked areas. However, Adams said there is a vibe of uncertainty surrounding the local job market, particularly with Fort Benning’s losses over the past year and the prospects of even more with budget sequestration looming in 2017 and another potential Base Realignment and Closure round in coming years.
“A lot of people that we’re working with that are new looking to come into the market, they’ve kind of put a hold on things, at least to find out what’s happening with Fort Benning,” Adams said. “We’ve got people that are ready to come into the market, that are definitely interested. It’s just that uncertainty — unless we can find them a slam dunk, the corner of Main and Main with 75,000 cars.”
Lewis said his company still has about two acres of land yet to develop off Whittlesey Boulevard, adjacent to where Eyemart recently opened and Willy’s Mexicana Grill is scheduled to debut on Monday.
There’s another four to five acres next to Waffle House on Veterans Parkway that have been pre-leased by tenants, he said, although the plan is to work with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad, the city and the state to gain access to 35 more acres. A bridge to go over the rail line is proposed by the developer to get to the property, a process that could take two to three years at least.
Meanwhile, Lewis said he’s not necessarily concerned about moving too fast on any one development. He wants the right fit for the city and wants to find long-term businesses who will do well and be used by local residents, be it a retail, service or food establishment.
“I worked on a Publix center down in Florida one time,” he said. “It took 10 years from the time we put the property under contract until the time we got Publix open.”