Business

Developers push forward with project that will bring retail, restaurants, residential

This aerial photo shows the boundaries of the 86-acre property being developed into Midland Commons in north Columbus. The concrete that was the remains of a former Swift Textiles mill called the Boland Plant is being removed, as well as trees and vegetation, as the project moves forward. --
This aerial photo shows the boundaries of the 86-acre property being developed into Midland Commons in north Columbus. The concrete that was the remains of a former Swift Textiles mill called the Boland Plant is being removed, as well as trees and vegetation, as the project moves forward. -- Image from Columbus Planning Department

Nearly two years into the planning phase, Midland Commons, a mixed-use development encompassing just over 86 acres of land in north Columbus, is now starting to show signs of life in the form of land being cleared.

Ultimately, the property at 7801 Flat Rock Road, off the bustling J.R. Allen Parkway, also known as U.S. 80, is expected to be a mix of commercial businesses to include big-box anchors, midsize retail, restaurants, and possible residential offerings such as loft apartments and an assisted-living facility.

However, the timeline has been somewhat fuzzy since Columbus partners Marty Flournoy, Chris Wightman and Jack Wright dived into the project with their $6.25 million purchase of the former Swift Textiles factory site in June 2017. Their company is known as JMC Flatrock Partners LLC.

“Right now we’re starting the process of getting the ground ready,” Wightman said Thursday. “That, of course, is clearing the trees and putting all of the infrastructure in to include the roads, the sewer, the water and everything. That should take us through November until the end of this year. We would hope to start going vertical with something between November and let’s say this time next year.”

Wightman said the work now taking place is on land that’s “anything but flat.” The area where the former mill stood is graded out and flat, but there are some rolling portions on the acreage that include ravines that will need to be smoothed out. There also are plans to raise the elevation of the overall site to be more in line with J.R. Allen Parkway, he said.

The company is coordinating with the Georgia Department of Transportation on road improvements at the front of the development. That work would be paid for by the developer and completed before Midland Commons’ opening. Proposed enhancements include locating the primary entrance to the development at J.R. Allen Parkway and Flat Rock Road north, adjacent to an existing McDonald’s restaurant.

Most notably, there would be four exit lanes from the development onto the parkway at the intersection and two entering the property. Three other secondary entrances from the parkway would be right-in and right-out turns with acceleration and deceleration lanes.

Talokas Lane, which now runs into the Walmart Supercenter property off Gateway Road, would be extended into and through Midland Commons to J.R. Allen Parkway to align with Flat Rock Road. The overall design also could include a roundabout or two.

“That’s a little bit longer process of getting all of the plans through DOT because there’s going to be a lot of improvements out there to include signalization and some additional turning lanes, and off-ramp free-flow lanes,” Wightman said. “I would imagine you’ll start seeing some (roadwork) movement out there between late spring to early summer.”

As for tenants that might land at Midland Commons, the real-estate developer said there’s nothing much he can disclose at this point. Sources have said a Culver’s fast-food eatery is considering the location, as is a steakhouse and convenience store. A big-box retailer could be something on the order of a home improvement store.

“There are some things on the horizon, but as far as the national tenants that we’re talking with right now, nobody wants us to disclose anything,” he said. “I guess they want the big-bang effect of whenever they make their public announcement.”

Wightman did confirm that supermarket chain Publix has been sought for the development even though the grocery company already has a 35,000-square-foot store not far away on Schomburg Road. The location pitched to Publix at Midland Commons would be considerably larger at 49,000 square feet.

“(As for Publix), they turned the site down initially, but they also turned around and asked us to bring it back next year,” Wightman said. “What we’re hearing from our Publix rep is it was more of timing issue than anything else. So they want us to bring it back next year and take a look at it again … I think we’re very hopeful and very optimistic.”

Ben Billings, the Columbus developer who attracted Walmart to his nearby property on Gateway Road, at the intersection of J.R. Allen Parkway and Manchester Expressway, said he is excited to see work on Midland Commons picking up traction.

“This project is going to be fantastic for our end of town,” he said. “We all still have to go to Columbus Park Crossing for a good restaurant that people are looking for, and this is going to open up a lot of opportunity for that.” He also sees the possibility for a new hotel catering to travelers and large employers in the Midland area of the city. Muscogee Technology Park and the large Pratt & Whitney complex are not far away.

“I think their timing is right,” Billings said of the Midland Commons partners. “I think their location is superb, and I think it will cause growth out this way. There are several new subdivisions that have started out this way, and I think it will continue … We’re going to feed off each other and it’s going to be a huge boost for us.”

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