New shopping centers coming to north Columbus

Blackmon Road retail development near J.R. Allen Parkway.
Blackmon Road retail development near J.R. Allen Parkway.

A French bistro named Soiree, the reintroduction of Blimpie subs to Columbus, and an Ace Hardware store are on their way to Blackmon Road as development picks up pace near the Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened earlier this year.

Developer Ben Billings said Thursday he’s about 30 days from opening a 9,800-square-foot strip shopping center next to the Walmart grocery store. The tenants include a liquor store called Midland Beverage, a Cuts by Us hair shop, Posh Nails and Spa, and Blimpie, the sub sandwich brand that left the city several years ago. The new one is owned by Keith Hammond, who has operated a Blimpie outlet in nearby Hamilton, Ga., since 2007.

“I have one space available that’s 1,800 square feet, with 1,000 square feet of outside dining and we’re presently looking for a tenant for that,” said Billings, noting he hopes to land another food-oriented business in that space.

The package store will have a drive-thru window, he said, while a SunTrust Bank ATM machine will be part of the center, which will be called Blackmon Village.

Just behind Billings’ nearly completed property will be another strip center being constructed by Columbus businessman Sanjay Choudhury, who most recently brought the Wild Wing Cafe to Whittlesey Boulevard at Columbus Park Crossing.

The nearly 7,800-square-foot property will be anchored by a 3,500-square-foot French bistro, which is to be named Soiree, which denotes a festive gathering or party complete with food and music. Choudhury said he is partnering on the restaurant with people from the Atlanta area, with it including a members-only VIP lounge. The eatery itself will be open to everyone.

“They want to bring the concept here, like with a late-night breakfast, and they’re going to do ’80s and ’90s night on the weekends, that kind of stuff,” said Choudhury, who dropped earlier plans for a Mexican restaurant at the center. “It will be a really nice upscale lounge and it will have something going on everyday, with piano and jazz music every night.”

To be called Blackmon Plaza, the center also will have a drop-off outlet for Valley Rescue Mission, with discussions underway for a clothing boutique and an educational training center.

“I like that it is a neighborhood kind of strip center where people can come and spend some time, and it’s easy to get in and out, and (U.S.) Highway 80 is there,” Choudhury said of the Blackmon Road area, which has previously been home to residential housing to include apartments, a middle school, office space and a golf driving range. Georgia Military College opened a satellite campus in the area in January 2013.

Blackmon Plaza should be open by November, said Choudhury, who also is preparing to break ground in October on another Wild Wing Cafe at the Tiger Town development in the Opelika-Auburn, Ala., area. The restaurant should make its debut next spring. His Columbus Wild Wing Cafe is among the top performers in the company, he said.

While Billings has almost completed his center on the north side of the Walmart Neighborhood Market, he also is preparing to close a deal that will bring an Ace Hardware store to Blackmon Road, with its owners, Gary and Seth Johnson, already operating Home Ace Hardware on St. Marys Road for many years.

“People can get their lawn mowers worked on and get their lawn and garden stuff,” said Billings of the store, which could open by next spring. “We badly needed something like that here. They do extremely well on St. Marys Road ... Even the contractors, when they need something quick, they can pop in here and get in and get out. If you go to a superstore, whether it’s Home Depot or Lowe’s, you’ve got to walk all the way across that big store to get all of your stuff.”

Billings said the Blackmon Road development has taken plenty of time to get to this point of construction coming out of the ground. There also have been twists and turns, including a Japanese restaurant backing out of a deal to front the road.

“I’ve got that lot back, which I’m extremely excited about since we were turning away prospects because we didn’t have a place to put them,” he said. “So we will do another strip center on that lot, and it’s adjacent to the other driveway that goes into the Walmart and in front of the Ace Hardware.”

The center is expected to be about 7,700 square feet, the developer said, with it possibly having an open breezeway in the middle of it for space where people can sit outside and eat or have coffee. The eventual size will depend on the tenants and how much parking is required, he said.

Beyond that, Billings said he also has someone under contract on a piece of land between his second strip center and Georgia Military College, with it expected to be a small center as well. An eatery and possible office space have been mentioned for that property.

There are also a couple of acres behind Choudhury’s center that has been purchased by someone, although no construction work has been done. A sports bar was a possibility for that space, but has yet to materialize, Billings said.

That would leave only about eight acres of remaining land in the general area for sale. Billings said he was very close to nailing down a contract with an assisted living facility, but it fell through when two others were announced recently in other parts of north Columbus.

“I think Columbus is underserved in the assisted living market,” the developer said. “It’s about trying to find a nice place that’s affordable. Elderly people want to be taken care of, and they want to be comfortable just like they were at home, but they don’t want to spend their children’s inheritance. So it’s trying to find a good balance in the middle, and that price point is different for different people.”

Billings said the proliferation of smaller shopping centers and grocery stores is bucking the longtime trend toward the behemoth big-box outlets, with consumers wanting much easier access to retailers and restaurants to save steps and time.

“Back in the ’80s, that’s when the world decided: We want superstores,” he said. “Well, having to walk from one side of the store to get milk to the other side of the store to get Tums, people are getting tired of that. And they love the convenience of the neighborhood market. So we’re seeing everything scaled back to where it used to be 30 years ago.”