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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Ground was broken for a new Publix supermarket in Chattanooga's South Broad district on Wednesday. Nick Churillo, Publix district manager, at right with shovel, talks about the store. At left, with shovel, is City Councilman Erskine Oglesby.

This story was updated on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, at 4:03 p.m. with additional information.

A Publix store in Chattanooga's South Broad area will kick-start more development and help the under-served Alton Park and Piney Woods neighborhoods, officials said Wednesday.

"It will spread economic development through the Broad Street area," said City Councilman Erskine Oglesby as ground was broken on the 32,000-square-foot supermarket that was originally proposed more than two years ago.

Nick Churillo, district manager for the Florida-based supermarket chain, said the store at Broad Street and St. Elmo Avenue will employ 130 people when it opens in the third quarter 2021.

The store is the eighth Publix in the Chattanooga area, and the four-acre tract will hold about 2,400-square-feet of added small shop space, he said.

"We're pleased to expand market share," Churillo said before about two dozen people who turned out for the ceremony.

Ann Weeks, a longtime Broad Street property owner, said Publix will bolster the redevelopment of the area.

"A rising tide floats all boats," she said.

Developer George Chase of Alliance Realty Services wouldn't give the total project cost. But, he said the multimillion-dollar development will go on a tract that is owned by Jeff and Cindy Messinger, who are providing a ground lease for the property.

For many years, the Messingers ran the Mt. Vernon restaurant at the site until the eatery closed permanently around Christmas 2017.

The developer initially sought a zoning change on the parcel from Urban General Commercial to C-2 and then later three variances. But, a number of people indicated they wanted the developer to move at least some of the store up against Broad for a more urban look, along with other changes to the proposal.

Last November, the city's Board of Zoning Appeals initially refused the developer's plan for the store by a 5-4 vote. In December, the panel voted to re-hear the case.

A compromise was reached with the city that helped move the project ahead.

Mike Harrell of the nonprofit South Broad Redevelopment Group said it has taken a lot of patience for the supermarket to happen.

"Publix saw the long-term value," he said.

City Councilman Darrin Ledford said he can finally exhale, given that the project has reached groundbreaking.

"There has been a lot of back and forth with the city," he said. "It was a big hurdle."

Both he and Oglesby said they believe that the store can spur more development, such as at the 141-acre, former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry tract nearby.

Oglesby termed Publix "the catalyst we've needed for years."

The foundry site sits between Broad Street and Interstate-24. A group of local investors bought Wheland Foundry after it shut down in 2003 following 136 years of operation. Three years later, they purchased the adjacent U.S. Pipe property when that business closed after more than a century.

The South Broad District Plan, endorsed by the City Council, has suggested a multi-use sports and entertainment facility for the foundry parcel. The report foresees an array of new housing along with commercial and retail space, upgraded parks, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, including the new minor league ballpark and entertainment facility.

Cindy Messinger said she's thankful the Publix tract will be used for "a positive impact" for the area.

"I don't think there could be a better use," she said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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Staff photo by Mike Pare / A large group of people showed up to break ground for the Publix supermarket at Broad Street and St. Elmo Avenue. The store is to open in third quarter 2021 and employ 130 people.
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