Although construction equipment has been on site leveling dirt for more than a week, the official University Place Whole Foods groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday afternoon under gray, spitting skies.
The light drizzle didn’t dampen spirits as people gathered in a vacant retail space below the Clearview 100 Apartment complex. Picture windows overlooking the razed parcel set the backdrop for company, city and development officials who spoke about what it took to land the county's first Whole Foods location.
Whole Foods Northwest Regional President Joe Rogoff thanked the city for its cooperation and made light of rumors that his company wasn’t really going to open in University Place.
Ultimately the city’s vision for its Town Center and the type of community gathering place it hopes to create sold Whole Foods on the location, Rogoff said. Demographics also supported the decision, he said.
“I talked to people on the street and there are so many families here that want to eat healthy food,” he said in an interview after the ceremony. “There is a healthy lifestyle here. It’s a natural fit.”
Tossing a golden shovel full of dirt Wednesday was “exhilarating” for longtime City Councilman Ken Grassi. Grassi has been involved in the visioning for Town Center since the beginning.
“I’ve learned good things take time,” he said. “To see the dream become a reality now is amazing.”
City officials hope landing Whole Foods as an anchor tenant on the 12-acre site will create a domino effect that will bring in more retailers to the city-owned property. It also hopes a contract with Verus Partners, LLC, signed in November will bring a flurry of tenants over the next two to three years.
Verus is responsible for courting Whole Foods and is actively searching for other retailers to fill five vacant lots.
The Whole Foods building is projected to be 38,000 square feet and will add 100 to 120 jobs to the area. Project manager Andy Sprague said many employees at Abbott Construction, the company building the store, and its subcontractors live in Pierce County.
The store will include a combination of surface and underground parking. It is expected to open by March 2015. Work has also begun to the south on a 300-stall parking garage next to the library. Latitude 47, a mixed-use apartment building will be built above the garage.
Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467