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Publix eyes Greenville Highway site

A new Publix could be coming to Greenville Highway. The development would remove Atha Plaza, the old Tractor Shed and Peddler restaurant building, Blue Ridge Bedding and El Paso. A new Publix could be coming to Greenville Highway. The development would remove Atha Plaza, the old Tractor Shed and Peddler restaurant building, Blue Ridge Bedding and El Paso.

It looks like Publix is coming to Hendersonville.

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A new Publix could be coming to Greenville Highway. The development would remove Atha Plaza, the old Tractor Shed and Peddler restaurant building, Blue Ridge Bedding and El Paso.

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On Thursday night, the Hendersonville City Council took action on a minor property ownership question that would help clear the way for a new store on the west side of Greenville Highway at White Street. The council's action was the first public confirmation that the Florida-based retailer was seriously pursuing a move into the second largest county in the North Carolina mountains, coming two years after the supermarket chain announced that it was building a new store in Asheville.

Attorneys for a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company asked the Hendersonville City Council to sell it a small piece of floodplain land along Mud Creek behind El Paso restaurant for the project. City Attorney Sam Fritschner described the piece of land, mostly floodplain and of little value by itself, as "integral" to the proposed Publix shopping center.

The developer, Halvorsen Suburban Holdings, has also built shopping centers for Publix Super Markets in Florida and more recently in the Charlotte area.
City Council members said after the meeting that the development would require land to be cleared south of El Paso and west on White Street through the old Tractor Shed restaurant property.
"I think it's a good thing," Councilman Steve Caraker said. "It's the second place they've looked at. And actually between the competition being good it's actually going to revitalize a pretty old section of commercial development that's not particularly state of the art."
Mayor Pro Tem Ron Stephens said he first became aware of Publix when he and his wife, Mary, lived in South Florida.
"We lived in Boca, and once Mary went there she never went to another store," he said. "It's going to wake up everybody — not that anybody's asleep, I don't mean that. But it's going to wake them up."

The new shopping center would displace the 55-year-old Atha Plaza, the mattress store behind it, a smaller retail building and El Paso restaurant.
If the development plans come to fruition, Publix would plunge into the grocery wars in an area of town already densely occupied by competitors. In 2009 Harris-Teeter moved across the road into its new store on Spartanburg Highway a few hundred yards east of Greenville Highway. Ingles has an old store across from Harris Teeter and filed plans with the city for a 77,000-square-foot super store to replace the older one. Fresh Market is a stone's throw away to the north and the Hendersonville Community Co-Op will open its new store this year less than a mile east on Spartanburg Highway at South Grove Street.
The City Council agreed to Halvorsen's request to sell the parcel, which is  just under a tenth of an acre.

"The city never knew until a couple of months ago that it even had an interest in the property," Fritschner said. "The developer thought we would be willing to sell it to them since they thought they owned it anyway.... Mr. (Larry) Baber believes himself to be the current owner and in a perfect world he probably would be the owner."
Fritschner recommended that the council offer to sell the property for $1,000, subject to an upset bid as required under state law. That led council members into a discussion of what would happen if a competitor or some other agent submitted an upset bid with the intent of blocking the Publix development.
"What's to stop someone from offering $5,000 for it if this is integral for the completion of the project?" Councilman Jeff Miller asked. "Can the city give a piece of property to them, because it's really a strategic matter."

No, was the short answer. Without directly spelling out the options the city might be able to pursue, Fritschner assured council members that he had been in many conversations with the developer's lawyers, who he said are urgently trying to move the project ahead.

"This is the best method I could come up with," he said. "We can't just give it to them ... in the timeframe they're asking for. This is a request by them. They're the ones who asked for it. They understand the risk (of the upset bid process). I've had conversations with their lawyer."

The property on Greenville Highway and White Street is owned by Atha Plaza, Annette and Larry Baber, Scott and Carol Ann Surrette (Larry Baber's daughter and son-in-law); Gerald W. Rhodes of Saluda (the El Paso property); and Pro-Source Land Holdings of Greenville, S.C., Henderson County tax records show. The 13,000-square-foot Atha Plaza, built in 1960, is assessed for tax purposes at $629,000.