published Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Chattanooga's North Shore may get a Publix grocery store

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Developers plan to bring a grocery store -- expected to be a Publix -- to Chattanooga's North Shore by the end of 2013.

Atlanta development firm ARS Ventures plans to build a 45,000-square-foot grocery store in the mostly vacant block at 420 N. Market St. The group filed for city approval on July 10 and hopes to break ground on the 10-month project next spring.

"It makes sense to have this business in the community," said Tom Austin, a local developer representing ARS. "It's going to fit in well. We're going to make sure it makes sense aesthetically to the community."

A store opening typically creates between 100 and 125 jobs, said Brenda Reid, a Publix spokeswoman.

Publix entered the Chattanooga market five years ago with an East Brainerd location. It soon followed with a Hixson store, which represented a $10 million investment, in October 2008 and an Ooltewah store that December.

"We're always looking at potential new sites," Reid said.

A North Shore location would help Publix serve Signal Mountain, Red Bank, downtown and North Chattanooga.

Neither Reid nor Austin officially would confirm Publix had an interest in the site because the project is still in preliminary stages.

Before store construction can begin, plans must be approved by the city, including rezoning some property and closing East Manning Street.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency's development plan for the proposed grocery site calls for a building smaller than 10,000 square feet oriented toward pedestrian rather than car traffic.

But John Bridger, head of the regional planning agency, said the plan is only a guide. The planning commission will consider the proposed zoning change Aug. 13, and the Chattanooga City Council is expected to decide on the project in September.

"There's definitely some parallels between what the plan's recommending and what they're requesting," he said. "We look at the whole ball of wax."

John Bilderback, manager of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department's Step ONE nutrition and exercise program, considers food access a major problem in the Chattanooga area. The proposed store would be served by public transit, helping connect underserved communities in the area, including Hill City, a lower-income neighborhood in North Chattanooga.

"It's a big win for Hill City," Bilderback said. "All in all, it should be a good improvement for the community, and it definitely shows supermarkets are willing to build."

The North Shore is already served by Greenlife Grocery, a subsidiary of Whole Foods, but Bilderback said its organic focus and subsequently higher prices put its food out of reach for low-income areas.

He hopes if Publix does move into the area, it will not only make fresh food more accessible, but put rival grocers on notice.

"It will definitely alleviate and add more competition into the market, which is something we need here," he said. "It really helps keep prices low."

Contact Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.

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