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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Nov. 26, 201905:29 PM EST

Winn-Dixie seeks $850,000 in city incentives to fill Publix space at Gateway

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City Council President Scott Wilson files a bill to help the grocer.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. requested $850,000 in city financial incentives to open a store at Gateway Town Center in the space that Publix Super Markets Inc. will vacate at the end of the year.

Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie informed officials with the city Office of Economic Development that the grocery chain plans to renovate and lease the 28,120-square-foot store at 5210 Norwood Ave. by the end of the first quarter 2020. 

Publix, which has anchored the Northwest Jacksonville shopping center for 20 years, announced in October it would not renew its lease with landlord Gator Investments LLC and would vacate by Dec. 28.

City Council President Scott Wilson filed Ordinance 2019-870 Tuesday night at the request of Mayor Lenny Curry.

The bill would take $850,000 from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund to “offset costs associated with redeveloping and outfitting” the Publix space.

If the Gateway area is left without a grocery store, it would create a food desert for the neighborhood’s residents. The city’s economic development office considers an area without a grocery store located within a mile a food desert. 

Council earmarked $3 million from the trust fund in 2018 to address food deserts in the city’s northwest quadrant.

Winn-Dixie is owned by Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers.

“We believe this story will have a very happy ending in the first quarter of 2020,” Southeastern Grocers spokesman Joe Caldwell said Tuesday when asked to confirm that Gator Investments and Winn-Dixie had come to a lease agreement at Gateway.

“We are making all reasonable efforts to bring this unique opportunity to life for the North Jacksonville community, provided that all concerned parties can deliver upon their respective agreements in principle,” Caldwell said by email.

A project summary attached to the legislation states the city will fund up to $850,000 — 40% of the overall investment — to redevelop the property. The grant money will go toward furnishings, fixtures and capital improvements to the building and property.

Winn-Dixie is required to provide matching funds, covering costs associated with tenant build-out.

The grant will be issued after a certificate of occupancy is issued to Winn-Dixie and the company provides documentation of the investment.

City economic development officials said the agreement will include a clawback provision to ensure the retail space continues to operate as a grocery store.

The city would be reimbursed by Winn-Dixie on a sliding scale at the rate of 20% of the grant amount per year — $170,000 — over the course of five years.

If the store fails to continue to operate, the remaining term of the agreement will determine the amount due back to the city. 

Since Lakeland-based Publix's announcement, Gateway and city officials have been trying to identify a permanent grocery tenant.

Rowe’s IGA Supermarkets owner Rob Rowe said Nov. 10 he decided against leasing the space after he tried unsuccessfully to negotiate terms with the landlord.

The agreement introduced Tuesday will be vetted by three Council committees before the full Council votes on the proposal.

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