The Columbus Park Crossing area is poised to land yet another major retailer, with Academy Sports and Outdoors expected to locate on a parcel of land now owned by North Highland Assembly of God Inc.
The groundwork, in essence, is now being laid, with North Highland Church seeking rezoning of about 13.5 acres at 7221 Whittlesey Blvd. from “single-family residential” to “general commercial.” That’s on the northern end of Columbus Park Crossing, across from the new Dairy Queen and Candlewood Suites hotel, and not far from the Moon Road intersection.
Robert French, North Highland Church administrator and one of its pastors, would “neither confirm nor deny” on Tuesday that Katy, Texas-based Academy Sports and Outdoors is the commercial prospect that wants the land. Several development sources in the city have said that Academy Sports is the future retailer going on the property that the church has used through the years for various events and parking, including an annual Mud Run.
“We hate to lose that for parking. But it’s such a big piece of property to really not use for more than that,” French said. “When somebody comes and expresses an interest in it, which is what happened, we give it some consideration. It’s certainly a desirable piece of property, as you know, there on Whittlesey.”
Privately owned Academy Sports is a recreation and outdoors retailer that sells a variety of merchandise at what it calls “every day low prices.” That includes leisure items such as barbecue grills, athlete apparel and footwear, hunting, fishing and camping gear. Brands that it carries include Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, YETI and Columbia.
The retailer’s nearest location is about 40 minutes away in Auburn, Ala., not far from the Tiger Town development in Opelika.
Drawings and aerial views submitted by North Highland to the Columbus Planning Department with its rezoning application show a 64,400-square-foot retail structure with 300 parking spaces situated on just under 11 acres. That’s the average size of the stores that Academy Sports and Outdoors has been opening, including two 63,000-square-foot stores that made their debut in mid-November in the Georgia cities of Kennesaw and Brunswick. Each store employs about 100.
Calls and an email request for comment to Academy Sports and Outdoors were not returned. The company is owned by private New York City investment firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
The North Highland rezoning package also shows a 1.45-acre outparcel with an 11,600-square-foot building and 69 parking spaces. A second outparcel, closer to a Homewood Suites hotel, is just over an acre, but has no structure drawn on the plans.
The land that is being developed — packaged with just over two more acres for a total of about 16 acres — has been on the market for some time, with an asking price of $3.5 million.
“We would love to have got that amount, but I think that was a little bit too evangelistic to think that,” French said. “So we will not get that much for that property.”
It was in the late 1970s that North Highland Assembly of God purchased about 40 acres on the then-Moon Road site, the church administrator said, eventually relocating there from the Bibb City area of Columbus in 1984. That past location also was known as the North Highland area of the city, with the church keeping its name following its move farther north and east off what today is J.R. Allen Parkway.
“People thought we had lost our mind, because there was nothing here,” French said. “But we had the foresight and we knew that the 400-plus acres, which is now Columbus Park, would be developed. So based on knowing the only place that Columbus could really grow would be out here, we purchased and built. We just didn’t have any idea that growing up around us would take 20-plus years.”
The church has let go of pieces of the property at various times because of the Columbus Park development, the church administrator said. It donated the right-of-way for the stretch of Whittlesey Boulevard that now cuts through the development.
“We ended up donating that property and felt like what we would gain out of that road was far more than we could have ever done ourselves,” he said. “So this was really our gift to the city.”
The church, which also sold more than 8 acres upon which the Kia auto dealership now does business, has benefited in other ways from its current location. That includes the great visibility from its perch on the hill above the surrounding area. The congregation has grown from under 500 in its Bibb City days to just over 2,000 today. The lead pastor today is Rev. Dennis Lacy.
“What it did was put us on showcase to Columbus here. So it’s been a great move for us,” said French, who estimates the church’s work on the land sale and transfer of ownership should be completed by early spring.
Academy Sports and Outdoors operates more than 225 stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.