University Place lands Whole Foods as Town Center tenant

Staff writerNovember 4, 2013 

Whole Foods store in Oklahoma City.

WHOLE FOODS

Whole Foods Market is coming to University Place Town Center with a projected opening date of March 2015, according to company representatives. It will be the national grocer’s first location in Pierce County and the first Whole Foods built between Seattle and Vancouver, Wash.

The high-end, certified organic grocer will be the first anchor tenant of the city’s Town Center development. The $10 million project will be built to the north of the library and the recently opened Clearview 100 Apartments, which sit above still-vacant retail space. No public money would be used to build the store, UP officials said.

City Council members unanimously approved a purchase-and-development agreement Monday night that sets the project in motion. The agreement allows development company Verus Partners, LLC to purchase the 106,234 square-foot lot at the corner of 35th Street West and Bridgeport Way West from the city for the Whole Foods location.

The city will receive close to $480,000 for the sale of the land. City Attorney Steve Victor estimated the sale could close around January. Developers expect to break ground on the project next spring.

“We’ve been looking at a number of different locations for Whole Foods. This one got traction very quickly,” said Robert Andrews, Verus managing partner. “Whole Foods has never closed a store, so they take their site selection very seriously.”

The store is projected to be 38,000 square feet and will add 100 to 120 jobs to the area. It will offer a combination of surface and underground parking and will be one of the first buildings people see when they approach Town Center driving south on Bridgeport.

Plans for building a walkable downtown in the suburban city of 31,000 residents have been discussed for more than a decade while the city piled up millions of dollars of debt on the site, which it refinanced last year. In that time, there have been some false starts at Town Center. Other retailers that floated the possibility of building on the city-owned land never took action.

Unlike a previous agreement in which an Applebee’s restaurant was slated for Town Center but then backed out and built a short distance away on private property, Victor said Whole Foods won’t renege.

“That happened fast,” he said of Applebee’s. “This happened slow. It’s been a year’s worth of work.”

Whole Foods executive Michael Barthol said the company spent considerable time studying the area and determined UP was the right fit for the store’s customer base.

“We’re really into organic and healthy, and if you watch people that come into the store, they’re reading the label — how much salt does it have, how much sugar?” Barthol said. “We’re all foodies, so we like that aspect.”

The council’s approval Monday also gives Verus the authority to develop five vacant parcels that comprise the majority of Town Center. Much of that development would come over the next two or three years, as stipulated in the agreement.

Development of a 300-stall parking garage and the Latitude 47 mixed-use apartment building is set to begin before the end of the year on the lot directly south of the library.

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