A new Kroger grocery store will anchor a planned mixed-use development at Buckwalter Place in Bluffton, company officials announced Thursday.
The 113,000-square-foot Kroger will be one of the company's new Marketplace stores, which feature typical grocery products as well as upscale amenities, according to Glynn Jenkins, a spokesman for Kroger's Atlanta Division.
The Bluffton location will include a drive-thru pharmacy, fuel center, Fred Meyer Jewelry, Starbucks, a Chef on the Run prepared-foods station and an apparel department, Jenkins said in an email.
Kroger's Atlanta Division opened the first Marketplace shop to combine grocery and other service departments in Carrollton, Ga., in 2013, Jenkins said. The Bluffton location will be the company's fifth such store, and its first outside of Georgia.
The massive new Kroger will anchor a larger outdoor mall with retail, restaurant and residential space on the 34-acre tract on the northern side of the Buckwalter Place development.
Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial is designing the plans, which include a new gas station, five buildings with 58,000-square-feet of restaurant and retail space, a large public park and 1,085 new paved parking spaces.
The design also includes about 150 apartments and townhomes. Those units will be in a single apartment building and above shops in three of the other proposed buildings, according to the plans.
The conceptual plan was approved Wednesday by a subcommittee of the Bluffton Public Development Corporation, and the corporation's full board will vote on the plans next week. Then the town's Planning Commission and Town Council will consider the plan.
Attempts to reach town manager and Public Development Corp. director Marc Orlando were unsuccessful Thursday.
Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial partnered with Kroger two years ago to develop Shelter Cove Towne Centre on Hilton Head Island, with a massive new Kroger as the outdoor mall's anchor tenant.
Island residents were initially critical of the size of that Kroger and the cutting of trees it required. The Bluffton marketplace structure will be nearly 30 percent bigger.
The new Kroger also will be nearly 2.5 times larger than the Publix grocery store on the southern end of the Buckwalter Place development. Attempts to reach a regional Publix spokesperson were unsuccessful Thursday.
The Kroger will be the latest addition to an already red hot grocery market in southern Beaufort County.
In western Bluffton alone, the Kroger will join a future Walmart Neighborhood Market, which will anchor a new development at Bluffton Parkway and S.C. 170, and a long-planned Harris Teeter at Hampton Parkway and U.S. 278.
Walmart also is rumored to be considering a Sam's Club at the Bluffton Gateway shopping center, planned on the corner of U.S. 278 and S.C. 46. Walmart is planning another Neighborhood Market on Palmetto Bay Road on the south end of Hilton Head Island, within sight of an existing Publix.
A DIFFERENT DIRECTION
The Kroger Marketplace and outdoor shopping center now proposed for the northern third of the Buckwalter Place tract take a different direction than town economic development leaders envisioned for the property last year.
The 34-acre tract is same land the Bluffton Public Development Corp. attempted to purchase for $4.2 million last summer through a public-sector effort that also included financial support from the town of Bluffton, Beaufort County and the Beaufort County School District.
The deal was the corporation's first major economic development project, and its leaders were negotiating to bring a mid-range hotel, conference center and medical campus to the park, said Roberts Vaux, a Bluffton attorney and chairman of the corporation's board of directors. The corporation has always refused to discuss specifically what companies it was working with, and Vaux again declined to comment Thursday.
After much scrutiny, though, the deal ultimately fell apart when Bluffton Town Council withdrew its support for the purchase in July.
Vaux and corporation leaders pleaded at the time that without town control over the property, it could fall into another retail center and only bring lower-paying jobs than the tech sector the corporation wanted to target. They also argued the town needed to complement CareCore National, which has its headquarters in Buckwalter Place.
But Vaux says Blanchard & Calhoun Commercial's new plan doesn't leave a sour taste in his mouth. CareCore leaders also have reviewed and endorsed the plan, he said.
"You can't go back and play 'what if' or think if things had turned out differently," Vaux said. "We had it in our grasp, we lost it, and we're better people for it. ... This deal could turn out better for the town in the long run."
The Kroger project is expected to create 250 to 300 jobs, Jenkins said. The development also brings a slew of new properties to the school district's tax base, Vaux added.
That is progress for the town, regardless of what corporation leaders had in mind nine months ago, Vaux said.
"I'm too old to worry about spilt milk," he said. "This is what's on the table now, and our job is to make it the best deal for the residents of Bluffton and Beaufort County as possible."