Potential 2013 opening for Whole Foods in Savannah

Potential 2013 opening for Whole Foods in Savannah

By Adam Van Brimmer

For those counting the days until Whole Foods opens its first Savannah store, the wait may be significantly shorter than anticipated.

Officially, the high-end grocer is sticking to its original targeted opening date of fall 2014 for its planned 35,000-square-foot market at the former Backus automobile dealership on Victory Drive. But the developer is to turn over the space to Whole Foods next April, and marketing materials for the site list Oct. 15, 2013 as the market’s opening date.

The sale of the Backus property and five other neighboring parcels closed Friday. Crews were on site Monday doing utility work, and demolition of the existing buildings on the site could commence as soon as the end of the week.

Eight buildings, including Backus’ trademark pink showroom and mechanical shops, will be razed to make way for the 65,000-square-foot shopping center to be known as Victory Station.

“We’re very excited to get going on this thing,” said Ian Smith, a spokesman for the project’s developers, Atlanta-based Knightswood and S.J. Collins Enterprises. “We’ve been working on it since fall 2010, so it has been a long complicated project. But we are excited to have the green light now.”

PetSmart also plans to open a store in the center, according to marketing materials. The pet supplier, which already operates a Savannah store on the southside, will occupy almost 14,000 square feet, leaving 15,200 square feet for other tenants.

Smith would neither confirm nor deny PetSmart’s lease but did say additional tenant announcements will be made in August.

Alterations to Victory Drive and other streets around the property will also begin next month. The developers have secured permits from the Georgia Department of Transportation and the city of Savannah to install a traffic light at Victory Drive and Dixie Avenue and alter the Victory Drive median between Dixie Avenue and the Truman Parkway.

Motorists traveling westbound on Victory Drive would not have direct access to the site and would instead be routed down Dixie Avenue. Shoppers leaving the development would use Dixie to access westbound Victory Drive as well.

Whole Foods signed on as Victory Station’s anchor tenant in May, ending more than a year of speculation about the specialty food retailer’s future in Savannah. The company’s regional vice president hailed Savannah as a “terrific location” as Whole Foods expands its presence in the Southeast.

The Backus property’s location helped attract Whole Foods. More than 25,000 vehicles a day pass the site along Victory Drive and another 22,000 drive by on Truman Parkway, which stretches along the eastern edge of the site. More than 130,000 residents live within five miles of the site.

“The ability to pull in people from four directions is key,” said David Sink, a commercial real estate agent with Colliers International. “The Truman Parkway being limited access means you can move along quickly and easily and it will draw in the shoppers from the north and south who don’t regularly travel along Victory.”

Sink was one of several locals involved in brokering the deal. Others included Rhett Mouchet and Michael Bone of Kulp Mouchet, W.H. Johnson of W..H. Johnson Realty and Trip Tollison of the Savannah Chamber of Commerce.

The Backus site has been vacant since October 2009 when General Motors revoked the Backus dealership’s franchise agreement as part of larger cost-cutting measures. The Backus family had sold Cadillacs and Pontiacs on the site for 54 years.