Publix clears final hurdle, will open on Aug. 6 with booze in stock

Publix clears final hurdle, will open on Aug. 6 with booze in stock

August 1st, 2014 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Last-minute exterior work continues as a worker prepares to install awning out front at the new Publix grocery store on North Market Street.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

POLL: Will the North Shore Publix create traffic problems?

Publix has cleared the final hurdle in what has become a nearly two-year series of challenges between it and a planned opening next Wednesday.

The Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker board Thursday gave a final OK to sell alcohol at the North Market Street grocery store.

It's been a long road since September 2012 when a then-unnamed company presented a plan to build what appeared to be a suburban grocery store design adjacent to the urban landscape of Chattanooga's North Shore.

Members of the public and the North Shore Design Review Committee challenged the design, calling for a more urban, street-friendly design, before ultimately compromising when pressure was brought to bear from political officials who had already negotiated with Publix to bring the store to Chattanooga.

Publix has built urban grocery stores in other cities, such as Miami, that are multiple stories and are more pedestrian-friendly. But Publix, though its surrogates, argued that such a development wasn't feasible in Chattanooga.

Publix's attempts to navigate the boards, permits and inspections that stand between Scenic City businesses and their customers has raised public awareness, both about the maze of requirements for such an undertaking and the value of public pressure on officials when such a business receives overwhelming support from members of the community.

Planning officials quibbled over the type of brick, whether there would be windows, the material make-up of the rear of the store -- brick or concrete -- the location of dumpsters, the orientation of the store, the addition of retail shops along North Market Street, the number and nature of entrances, and even the so-called "lighting plan."

Blythe Bailey, who is now the transportation director of the city, called in 2012 for a design more in line with the Whole Foods grocery on Manufacturers Road. He said Publix's proposal was "missing a huge opportunity," and said that if Publix threatened to pull out, officials should "call their bluff."

"To me, what we're trying to do with urban design guidelines [is] to make sure what we build in the North Shore is of the same character of what we cherish, what's already there," Bailey said at the time. "The idea for new development is you continue that pattern. That's my best dissent to this."

Developers did little to hide their frustration with the process, though they continued to offer revised plans and even samples of the material they planned to use.

"It's clearly not fully urban or fully suburban," said John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

On the other side of the aisle, neighbors, developers, architects and even then-Mayor Ron Littlefield argued that Publix would provide affordable food for families in the area, and that the city was in danger of running off a much-need grocery store.

"We have people living in my district, in Hill City, that rent taxis in order to be able to get to the grocery store," said Deborah Scott, who at the time was city councilwoman for District 1.

Developer George Chase breathed a sigh of relief Thursday morning after the beer board approval as his more than two-year project finally nears an end.

Only days ago, the store twice in one day failed fire inspections before officials brought it up to code.

"I'm ready for it to open," Chase said.

Contact Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6315