When Phillip Nabors was trying to decide on the design for the new Highland Square grocery store, he originally went to the city with a modest, lower-cost idea.
“What does it look like if you do it right?” Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic asked.
Nabors, the owner of two Mustard Seed Market grocery stores and a Highland Square resident, told Plusquellic his ideas.
“Let’s do that,” Plusquellic said.
Nabors’ vision for the long-anticipated grocery store, which features a two-story design with a grocery on the first floor and a terrace and eating area on the second, is finally taking shape. He understands and shares the frustration of others that it’s taken so long to make the store actually happen.
“It’s getting close,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s almost there. We’re going to deliver a real store.”
Adele Roth, Akron’s development manager who has headed up the project, shares Nabors’ frustration and new-found optimism, with a development agreement nearly completed, design plans and a land sale recently approved by the Akron Planning Commission, and a groundbreaking that looks like it may happen in late June or early July. Akron City Council is expected to take up legislation on the plans next month.
“I am just really super excited,” Roth said. “I am finally feeling positive about it.”
The latest developments in the grocery store plans include:
• The Akron Planning Commission on May 17 approved the sale of the city-owned land at the corner of North Portage Path and West Market Street where the nearly 24,000-square-foot store will be built, and the Chipotle building to the east, to Highland Square Economic Development LLC, which the city set up to be the developer for the project. The cost is $3.8 million for the grocery store property and $2.1 million for the other parcel. The city received a $3.8 million federal loan to build and furnish the grocery store.
• The Planning Commission also approved a site plan for the grocery store on the 0.75-acre corner parcel.
• FirstMerit Bank has agreed to sell a 10-foot-wide grassy strip of land between its building and the grocery store property to the city for $9,000. (The property is valued at $25,000.) Akron City Council will vote on the sale June 3.
• A development agreement between Mustard Seed Grocers, the Highland Square Economic Development LLC and the city, and the sale legislation, is expected to be brought to the council in mid-June. Plans call for Mustard Seed to lease the property, with an option to buy it in the future. Mustard Seed will manage the Chipotle building, with the rent from the now-full retail building helping to cover the costs of the debt service on the federal loan.
Roth said the city will eventually recoup its investment, except for the $417,000 it spent to buy the property where the grocery store will be located.
Picking a design for the grocery store was a challenge because the site is so small, parking is a problem and the property includes an empty 3,000-square-foot building that has never been used.
Those involved are on their 37th design for the project, with the first renditions focusing on ways to incorporate the existing building into the new store. Roth said this proved too costly and the building will be torn down. The city will, however, remove some items that can be reused elsewhere, such as doors and windows, and the bricks and metal will become fill.
Another design made the outside look like multiple storefronts.
The design that was picked, though, features a more modern look similar to the nearby Highland Square library branch. The brick building will include two stories of glass at the southwest corner and a large terrace overhanging the sidewalk along Market, according to Planning Commission documents.
Nabors said patrons will be able to buy food and drinks at the store and enjoy them on the terrace or a second-floor dining area. The second floor also will have space for cooking classes and other programs, like the ones currently offered at the Mustard Seed Markets in the Montrose area of Bath Township and Solon.
Nabors also is hoping to form partnerships with other nearby businesses for programs, including the library and the Highland Theatre, where movies could be shown on food and health. Nabors and his wife, Margaret, are excited about spreading the message about buying healthful food for an affordable price.
“We will deliver real food to our community,” Nabors said. “In 30 years of doing this, I have seen the transformation wellness can provide for families.”
A continuing concern for the grocery store site is parking. Plans are for 76 parking spaces on the site for use by Mustard Seed and FirstMerit Bank and new on-street parking on Edgerton Road and Conger Avenue. Patrons also will have access to the city-owned parking lot behind the Chipotle building, and Akron has pledged to look for other potential parking in the area.
Nabors has another plan, though, for dealing with the parking problem: The store will encourage shoppers to walk. He plans to sell collapsible carts and give patrons who use them a modest reward. Customers will be encouraged to customize their carts, and the store may host events, like a parade, for people to show off their cart creativity.
Nabors says he’s excited to finally bring a grocery store to his neighborhood, and also to shop there himself.
“Highland Square is a super cool part of Akron,” he said. “I’m pleased to live here and want to make it better.”