Could it be highly sought after warehouse retailer Costco that developers of the planned Midland Commons have their eyes on for the property at 6801 Flat Rock Road, just off J.R. Allen Parkway?
Might Kroger, the popular grocery chain with locations seemingly everywhere except Columbus, finally pull the trigger on entrance into a market that could be plum for a new player that views it as ripe for the picking?
The purchase of the 86-acre former textile site in the Midland area of Columbus by a group of Columbus real-estate investors is less than three weeks old, and much more planning needs to be done. But it’s a certainty that the wheels of commercial courtship are already beginning to turn, even if the project’s completion is in the distant future.
“You can probably read between the lines on this: If you’ve got the best site and they’re willing to make a commitment there’s probably something that could be done there. But we certainly don’t have them signed up,” Marty Flournoy, one of the three investors in Midland Commons, said earlier this week when asked if Costco is a possibility for the big-box retailer on is shown on the company’s current diagram of what the development will look like.
Aside from the large retailer on the site plans, it also has a neighborhood retail center with at least a dozen tenants in the middle of the property, as well as a supermarket-anchored plaza. There are at least nine outparcels fronting the development for future restaurants, a drug store, a bank and gas station. A small strip center is to the back of the development, as is a senior living complex close to a paved Rails to Trails path used by the public.
Seattle-based Costco has taken a peek every now and then at Columbus for years, commercial brokers say, apparently looking for the right moment and the right property to call home and rake in maximum cash returns for the company. A SuperTarget also had been discussed years ago as a logical choice in the Midland area, perhaps off Flat Rock Road across from what will become Midland Commons.
But that was before the Walmart Supercenter opened on nearby Gateway Road several years ago, with Columbus developer Ben Billings attracting the Arkansas mega-retailer to the site, then constructing his own Billings Crossing Plaza and other commercial space for a variety of retail, service and restaurant businesses.
Billings, who with a partner, had sought to purchase the former Swift Textiles property, as had other prospective buyers. But with it now in the hands of Columbus-based owners — Flournoy, Jack Wright and Chris Wightman — he said he will do what he can to support the men and their project so that his commercial properties and those they attract can “feed off each other” and be successful.
The outspoken Billings also is a firm believer that JMC Flatrock Partners — as the Columbus investors are incorporated — must land a notable big-box tenant to make a major splash and draw shoppers from elsewhere in and around the city.
“You need that thing that’s different,” he said. “But a store like (Costco) would make that facility and it would bring people from 30 miles in all directions. That’s what it has to have to make this thing really work.”
As for the planned grocery store on the Midland Commons property, Billings said that “plumping down another Winn-Dixie on that corner isn’t what needs to go there. It will struggle if you’re just trying to work off of a 2-mile or 3-mile demographic ring.”
While it’s still early in the game, with the developers needing to rezone the former manufacturing property to planned unit development, which requires Columbus Council approval at some point in the future, Flournoy said there’s already interest in the site from a hotel prospect. He also said there’s an effort to be more inconclusive to non-chain prospects.
“We’re trying to incorporate more local businesses that would be able to go in there as opposed to a lot of these big centers where it’s just chain stores,” he said. “We want to have smaller parcels that are more affordable to local businesses.”
Of course, while many consumers will publicly indicate they want to shop local and plan to do so as much as possible, there is a reason that national and regional retailers and restaurant chains do well in Columbus and elsewhere. The are demanded by the public.
An informal Facebook story poll by the Ledger-Enquirer about six months ago found that Costco, Bass Pro Shops and the Cheesecake Factory where near the top of local residents’ wish lists. Others included Trader Joe’s, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Dave & Buster’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Whole Foods, Joe’s Crab Shack, Home Goods, IKEA and, interestingly, Kroger. The common thread among all of those — they’re not yet in Columbus.
The area around the future Midland Commons already has a solid start in terms of new retail and eating establishments. Aside from the Gateway Road offerings, there’s Lakeside Village and its collection of restaurants that include Chicken Salad Chick, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Guadalajara, Chick-fil-A, Zaxby’s and Starbucks.
Jack Hayes, a broker with KW Commercial Realty River Cities in Columbus, would like the popular and growing regional Shrimp Basket restaurant chain to be among the mix in that area. The eatery’s fairly new Veterans Parkway restaurant already is a hit and now Hayes, who is seeking several locations in Georgia for Shrimp Basket, said the chain is hungry for the Midland area.
“We want to be there,” he said. “The challenge is we’re a little late to the game when it comes to Lakeside Village. That’s where they would really like to be, on an outparcel there, but there’s none available.”
That’s why Shrimp Basket would consider Midland Commons if the costs on that property are not too steep, said Hayes, noting that it is common for commercial brokers who typically compete with each other to bring clients to shopping center developers looking for tenants at their new sites.
“They’re wearing two hats, one is the developer-owner, and the other is the broker,” Hayes said. “But as a developer-owner they’re going to cooperate with outside commercial brokers to bring them restaurants, grocery stores and all sorts of types of users because, at the end of the day, they want to fill that thing up. They want to sell off pieces” of property.