Whole Foods store on track, more construction planned in University Place

Nearly a year has passed since construction started on Pierce County’s first Whole Foods market. The high-end grocer is on track to open in University Place by May, but other vacant lots on the 18-acre site formerly known as Town Center remain untouched.

That could change in a few months.

“We’re ready to close when the city can deliver the property,” said Robert Andrews, managing partner of Verus Partners LLC.

The city of University Place contracted with the Seattle-based retail and office development firm to develop five of the 13 lots within the 18-acre urban center, now called the Village at Chambers Bay.

Land fronting Bridgeport Way West is next in line for development, Andrews said. The space is now used as a gravel public parking lot and a construction staging area.

A total of 36,100 square feet of retail space is available on the parcels, which have been divided into five retail sites. Tenants are lined up for all of them, Andrews said.

He didn’t name the businesses but said boutique shops or a restaurant are the best options for the space.

Versus hasn’t inked a deal yet because past utility easements must first be cleared from the land’s title.

“When the city acquired the property many years ago, they wanted to close quickly,” said UP City Attorney Steve Victor.

That meant the property was bought before old easements were cleared from the title, he said. Some of them date back to the 1960s.

“As of the end of last year, we had almost all of the easements identified and clear,” he said.

Victor expects that work to be completed by the end of March at the latest. Then development can begin.

Last year, University Place entered an agreement with Verus with the objective of bringing a flurry of tenants to the urban center by 2017.

The agreement included an aggressive timeline: Have new tenants ready to develop within six months of closing on the last property, starting with Whole Foods.

Development hasn’t progressed as fast as initially hoped, but it appears Whole Foods’ commitment has sparked interest in the property.

“We have been pleasantly surprised with the number of tenants that are not represented today in Pierce County that we’re hoping to sign leases with,” Andrews said.

Whole Foods opening in UP has validated what the city is trying to create with its retail center, he said.

The only other active construction project on the Village site is also on schedule, Victor said. The first phase of the Latitude 47 building will have 157 high-end apartment units and 8,139 square feet of retail space at ground level.

Latitude 47, which includes a parking garage, is expected to be complete in June. It is not a Verus project. Brothers Kevin and Steve Berg, who own SEB Inc., are behind the project. They also built the Clearview 100 apartments and groundlevel retail next to Whole Foods.