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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Oct. 29, 201905:20 AM EST

City officials want Publix at Gateway Town Center to stay open

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Council member who represents the area served by the grocery says he was “shocked” by the chain’s decision to close.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

City officials want to work with Publix Super Markets Inc. to keep its store at Gateway Town Center open.

In a statement Friday evening, Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens said the Lakeland, Florida-based grocery store chain notified its associates and landlord it would not renew its lease and close Dec. 28.

The store is at 5210 Norwood Ave., east of Interstate 95, north of Springfield and Downtown.

Stevens said there are two other Publix locations near the Gateway store. One is 6 miles north at 1840 Dunn Ave. and another is 5 miles south at 2033 Riverside Ave.

District 7 City Council member Reggie Gaffney represents the neighborhoods served by the Gateway Publix.

He said he was “shocked” when he was informed that Publix would leave the shopping center. 

A representative from Gateway owner Gator Investments LLC did not return two requests for comment Monday, but Gaffney said he’s received a commitment from Gateway officials to freeze Publix’s monthly rental rate.  

According to Gaffney, rent for Publix at Gateway has remained stable at approximately $19,000 per month, including taxes and fees, for more than a decade. Gaffney said the lease includes a renewal option to keep the rent unchanged, and Gator Investments would extend the rate for 10 years.

“They realize the value of having the grocery store in this urban community, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep them there,” Gaffney said.

Stevens said there are factors that go into determining whether Publix will pursue a lease extension or renewal.

“While it is always a difficult decision to make, we have decided to close this store by the end of 2019,” he said.

Property records show the 28,120-square-foot store was built in 2000.

Stevens said Publix has not had a layoff in its almost 90-year history. He said the company will offer Gateway’s 130 store associates positions at a neighboring location if they desire.

Gaffney will meet with U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Florida, on Friday to discuss the issue, and he’s reached out to Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration to explore using city-backed incentives to keep Publix from leaving the location.

City Director of Public Affairs Nikki Kimbleton said in an emailed statement Monday the administration is in contact with all involved parties.

“The City has reached out to both Publix and the property owner to determine what, if anything, we can do to assist and keep the business in this location,” Kimbleton said. “Mayor Curry and the City of Jacksonville are committed to making sure all residents have access to fresh, healthy foods.”

The city has been trying to combat limited food availability in Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods. In 2018, Council earmarked $3 million in the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund to address food desert-related issues.

Ordinance 2019-245, enacted in April, allows the city to award up to $1.5 million or 40% of capital costs to bring full-service grocery stores to Northwest Jacksonville. 

Legislation that would issue a $750,000 grant from the program to reopen and renovate a shuttered Harveys at 1020 Edgewood Ave. in Northwest Jacksonville is currently working its way through Council. It would reopen as Rowe’s IGA.

Another bill, Ordinance 2019-768, would provide $300,000 to create four pilot programs to increase area residents’ access to fresh foods.

  The legislation calls for mobile markets; discounted transportation services through the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to nearby grocery stores; affordable grocery delivery grants; and a one-time grant of up to $5,000 for existing retailers to purchase necessary equipment such as open-air refrigeration.

Gateway is located within the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund’s boundaries. The two closest grocery stores to Publix at Gateway appear to be Harveys Supermarket about a mile east at 201 W. 48th St. and Save A Lot about 1.2 miles east at 5751 N. Main St. 

Gaffney said many area residents don’t have access to personal transportation and rely on public transit to go to the grocery store.

He worries that if Publix leaves in December, it will make a bad problem worse.

“To me, this is a crisis,” Gaffney said. “This is really going to create a food desert for that community. We need to use our leverage and use our resources so they stay.”

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