More than a year after launching the rezoning of property along Whittlesey Boulevard in Columbus and finalizing the purchase of land over the summer, work on property that will be home to a future Academy Sports and Outdoors store is finally beginning.
Earth-moving crews have starting clearing the 16 acres upon which the Texas-based retailer will open a 64,400-square-foot store later this year, with additional space set aside for other retail and restaurant tenants.
“My understanding is they’re going to be up and running by the end of the year. I’m sure they’re trying to be ready by Christmas,” Columbus Planning Director Rick Jones said Wednesday.
Hammerford Development Company, a Houston, Texas-based commercial real estate company, is developing the property. Cyrus Commisssariat, who is working with the development firm on the project, declined to comment Wednesday, citing a non-disclosure agreement with Academy Sports and Outdoors.
The final piece of the project to fall into place came last September. That’s when North Highland Assembly of God, a nearby church which owned the undeveloped property now slated to be a shopping area, completed sale of the land to HDC-Whittlesey-Columbus Partners LP, a company set up for this specific development. The purchase price was $2.8 million, according to Muscogee County real-estate records.
“I really think it’s going to be a plus for everybody,” North Highland Pastor Dennis Lacy has said of the retail space anchored by Academy Sports and Outdoors. “It’s going to be a plus for the community. It’s going to be a great retail store. There are a lot of people who go all the way to Opelika to do business with that store, and now they’ll be able to do it here.”
Lacy has said he and his congregation of about 1,000 will use the money to pay off church debt. That purpose was decided via a vote by church members.
The development at 7221 Whittlesey Blvd., just down the hill from North Highland Church and across from a Candlewood Suites hotel and Dairy Queen, is to be called “Whittlesey Commons.” Material submitted to the city’s Planning Department shows the 64,400-square-foot Academy Sports and Outdoors store will sit on nearly 11 acres and have 300 parking spaces. Two outparcels are planned on other portions of the property, which will go to other tenants seeking the benefits of doing business near a well-known name such as Academy Sports.
“I think it’s going to be a nice development, for sure. That end of Whittlesey down there could certainly use the improvement. It’s growing towards that way,” said Columbus commercial real-estate agent Richard Mobley. “And, golly, Academy pulls in people just by their name. The more people that (drive) by there, the more attractive it is to other retailers. Once this gets going, they’ll get looks from existing retailers in town, as well as from people that aren’t here.”
Staff with Columbus’ planning, engineering, inspections and traffic departments will be monitoring the project as it moves along, Jones said. That includes the potential impact on traffic along the roadway that cuts through Columbus Park Crossing between Veterans Parkway and Moon Road, with Academy Sports going near the latter intersection.
“They have not, to my knowledge, submitted any requests for permitting work on the roadway itself,” said Jones, who understands a deceleration lane and possibly a traffic signal is planned in front of the new development.
“They’ve got to get all of that work completed before they can open the store. That’s a requirement on our part,” the planning director said. “We looked at that when we did the rezoning on that property, and the roadway can certainly accommodate the additional traffic.”
Academy Sports and Outdoors is a recreation and outdoors goods retailer that sells a variety of merchandise at what it calls “every day low prices.” Merchandise includes leisure items such as barbecue grills, athletic apparel and footwear, hunting, fishing and camping gear. Brands it carries include Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, YETI and Columbia.
Founded in 1938, the company operates more than 230 stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The retailer’s nearest location is about 40 minutes away in Auburn, Ala., not far from the Tiger Town development in Opelika.
Academy is ranked No. 79 on a Forbes magazine list of “America’s Largest Private Companies.” The retailer’s revenue in its last fiscal year was $4.7 billion, with it employing 23,000 companywide. Each store has about 100 workers.