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Written by Brandon Dane   
March 2011

Whole Foods downtown, Publix to the north, and the rest is secret

MarketpicHere’s a story worth retelling: Whole Foods Market reportedly has plans for a new store in downtown Miami as part of the Metropolitan Miami complex set to open in late 2013. Specifically, the store would be located at the intersection of SE 3rd Avenue and SE 2nd Street, in the MET 3 building. (Whole Foods pulled out of a lease there in 2008, citing changes in the construction schedule.)

Likewise, Publix reportedly wants to build in Edgewater at 1776 Biscayne Blvd. in about the same time frame.

Sound familiar? Ten months ago the BT published a similar story (“Surging Supermarkets,” May 2010) about the proposed Edgewater Publix, as well as “persistent rumors” that Whole Foods Market would open a store in North Miami, at 1850 NE 123rd St., on the vacant lot behind Walgreens in the RK Causeway Plaza. If not there, according to the rumors, then the store would be built across the street from the Jockey Club, which is at 11111 Biscayne Blvd.

At the time, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, in whose district the new Publix would be located, confirmed that the market chain had applied for a building permit; his office said the company was going through the permitting process. Officials at the city’s building department told BT it would take about six months to issue the proper permits. Adding 18 months for construction time, it would have been an estimated two years before the store opened. A Publix spokeswoman wouldn’t comment then, saying there were no “official signed agreements.”

In the same story a regional spokesman for Whole Foods Market said that while the company was always looking for new locations in Florida, there were no new local store openings to announce. The City of North Miami’s building and zoning department confirmed that there had been no “applications for development” of the rumored site. Yet real estate broker Jeff Tomlinson, who specializes in residential waterfront property around and abutting the location, told BT his sources had assured him that a Whole Foods would be in place in North Miami by 2013 or 2014. The major holdup, he said, was the economy.

In the end, the rumors remained unsubstantiated, and two years sounded optimistic if one were to judge by the new Miami Beach Publix at 5th Street and Alton Road. That complex took roughly five years to complete.

But there is good news as of March 2011. The lease for the Edgewater Publix has been executed, according to Kimberly Jaeger of the company’s media relations department, and the permitting process is under way. Jaeger adds that no construction date has been set yet for the store, which at some 46,000 square feet will feature a café, liquor store, and pharmacy. It will be a traditional Publix, not one of their GreenWise organic outlets, and is expected to serve the southern part of the Biscayne Corridor, from 48th Street to downtown. The store will be at street level with two levels of parking above the building, like the architecturally daring Publix on 20th Street in Miami Beach.

Commissioner Sarnoff was unavailable to answer BT’s questions, and his office had no comment this time around.

As for Whole Foods, there was a small flurry of media activity in November 2010, after the Miami Herald reported the chain would open a 37,000-square-foot store at the Metropolitan Miami complex. The story noted that Whole Foods had made a commitment back in 2004 to open there. Those plans fell apart along with the real estate market.

Lyle Stern, of the Koniver Stern Group, the retail leasing representative of Metropolitan Miami, says the lack of further media ink reflects the fact that Whole Foods is now going through the permit process with the city. “We’ll probably break ground in mid- to late-summer 2011,” he said. “Then probably 18 months for construction.”

This is small comfort to residents along the Biscayne Corridor. As it stands, the two closest Whole Foods Markets are located in South Beach and Aventura, and both are congested.

When asked about the possibility of adding a North Miami location to siphon off the gridlock of the Aventura store, Juan Núñez, president of Florida Whole Foods, responded via e-mail. “We’re always looking for new locations to open a [store],” he wrote, “and all of Miami and South Florida is no exception. When we find one, we’ll be sure that everyone knows.”

He said further that “we [only] focus on what we’re doing at Whole Foods Market,” when asked to comment on the fact that there are already two Publix stores in Brickell, and the near certainty of another at 17th Street and Biscayne Boulevard.

Núñez told the Herald for its November story that the downtown densities create strong customer demand there. Yet according to one seven-year Brickell resident who now shops at Publix and the Fresh Market in the Grove for organic products, location may not be all-important. Brett O’Bourke says he might patronize Whole Foods Market, which would be closer, but it depends on “on how easy they make it to get in and out.”

So what about the rumors still flying that Whole Foods will expand to the North Miami area, to 1850 NE 123rd St., to be precise? Real estate broker Tomlinson still insists that Whole Foods is coming to some location nearby.

Other sources in the real estate community claim that Whole Foods Market has an option to buy the property, but Jacqueline Gonzalez, director of the department of building and zoning in the City of North Miami, says no permits have been issued for development and that “any negotiations or options concerning this property or any other and the potential buyer are not a matter of public record.”

Irwin Tauber of Taubco, who owns the property, also owns the new Causeway Square development directly across the street, which is recognizable for its L.A. Fitness franchise. He is playing it close to the vest. Tauber directed the BT to call his office and make an appointment for an interview. His secretary obligingly took name and numbers, but nothing came of it.

 

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