A Wegmans Food Market will anchor a new shopping center at Fifth and Avon streets, the project’s developers announced on Tuesday.
Charlottesville-based River Bend Management said they have signed a lease agreement to house the upscale grocer in the center, which will have 470,000-square-feet of retail and commercial space on an 80-acre tract, located in the county with frontage along Interstate 64.
Groundbreaking is planned for next summer and the project should be completed in 2015. The finished center will represent a $100 million investment into the local economy, according to the developer.
“Wegmans receives thousands of inquires each year requesting that they locate their stores in communities throughout the country,” Alan Taylor, vice president of River Bend Management, said in the announcement. “Since Wegmans only opens three stores each year, we are delighted that they have chosen to be in Charlottesville.”
Taylor said no other tenants have been confirmed at this time and that the project will be built in entirely in one phase over a two-year period. The center will eventually house up to 30 businesses. Private investments are funding the project, and Taylor said all of the funding is in place.
Wegmans spokeswoman Jeanne Colleluori confirmed on Tuesday that a store is planned for the Charlottesville area.
Colleluori said the company is concentrating on two markets — the Mid Atlantic and New England — and typically looks for two elements when considering new locations, a large piece of property and a strong, existing road infrastructure network.
Most Wegmans stores are about 140,000 square feet, but Colleluori said it’s too early to know exactly what the store’s footprint will look like.
Wegmans is the third high-end grocer to eye the Charlottesville region recently. In April, a representative of The Fresh Market, a North Carolina-based premium grocer, presented plans to county officials to remodel the former Circuit City site at Albemarle Square. That building has been vacant since 2008.
California-based Trader Joe’s will be an anchor at the Shops at Stonefield, a mixed-use development at U.S. 29 and Hydraulic Road, according to that project’s developer, South Carolina-based Edens. And Texas-based Whole Foods, formerly located at Shoppers World, relocated from the Shoppers World center to a new 40,000-square-foot building near K-Mart last June.
Tim Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Wegmans’ interest is good news for residents and communities on the south side of Charlottesville.
During the last 30 years, Hulbert said most retail and commercial development has been north of town. Hulbert said the new project will restore some balance and perhaps encourage people to shop and work closer to home.
“Many people head over to Waynesboro and Augusta County, perhaps due to the perception that it’s easier to get there than it is to get north of town on U.S 29,” Hulbert said.
County spokeswoman Lee Catlin agreed.
“We recognize that the southern part of Albemarle County has been underserved by retail options for a long time and this is an exciting possibility to bring a very high quality establishment, with a significant number of jobs and investment, to a convenient location for a large portion of our community,” Catlin said by e-mail.
Hulbert and Catlin also hailed the Wegmans as a good employer, with Hulbert calling them a “stellar company” that likely wouldn’t diminish the customer base of existing stores.
Because the project has not advanced to the final approval stages, no public hearings are set at this time, but Catlin said they would be once details are finalized.
Right now, Catlin added, the county and the developer are working to ensure that elements of the project are consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan for that area.
Wegmans is a family-owned, Rochester, N.Y.-based regional supermarket chain with stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia. The company has appeared on Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies To Work For” list since 1998, and Consumer Reports ranked Wegmans the top large grocery chain in the U.S. in 2012.
In River Bend’s announcement, Albemarle Supervisor Christopher J. Dumler also hailed the news as a positive turn.
“In these difficult economic times, it is essential that our government does what it can to promote job creation and increase local tax revenues,” Dumler said. “This new center will follow the county’s comprehensive plan while preserving and protecting the rural areas.”