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Cornelius merchants say they must move for Publix

CORNELIUS Some merchants in the Magnolia Plaza retail center off West Catawba Avenue said they’ve been told by a Florida developer that they’ll have to move to make way for a Publix grocery store.

Florida-based Publix, which is planning stores in Ballantyne and South End, hasn’t announced that it will move into Magnolia Plaza. But several business owners in the center told the Observer on Monday that a representative of Boca Raton-based Halvorsen Holdings told them it will raze half the center this fall to build a Publix and new retail space.

West Catawba Avenue, off Interstate 77 Exit 28, is in a prime location at Lake Norman. West Catawba connects with roads that lead to The Peninsula and other lakefront subdivisions with mansion-like homes.

Lori DiDonato, owner of Untangled Salon, said she was told by a Halvorsen official that demolition will begin in October and that a Publix will open in June 2014. Several other merchants told the Observer they plan to move because of the demolition and Publix.

Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron announced the planned demolition Monday morning at a “Coffee Chat” that town commissioner John Bradford regularly holds for constituents at the Acropolis Restaurant at Exit 28.

After the meeting, Herron declined to identify the grocer but told the Observer that Halvorsen is “the sole developer” of Publix stores.

He said Halvorsen first contacted his office in December about its plans but that he hasn’t heard back from the developer. He said he expects to receive plans from the company in the next 30 days.

Halvorsen intends to leave 21,000 square feet of the center untouched – everything up to and including Big Al’s Pub and Grubberia, Herron said. Everything past Big Al’s will be demolished, he said, and the developer will build back 68,000 square feet, including retail space in addition to the grocer.

DiDonato, who has operated in the center for nearly six years, said it will cost her thousands of dollars just to set up all of her equipment in a new location. “They’re talking about relocating us,” she said of the developer. “But are they going to pay for it?” she asked.

Tim Berg, vice president of Halvorsen Holdings, was out of the office Monday and couldn’t be reached.

Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said she can’t confirm a location unless Publix has a signed lease, and Publix has only two signed leases in North Carolina. In March, the company broke ground in Ballantyne on its first North Carolina store. The location, on Providence Road West, is expected to open in early 2014. The company has also announced plans to build a store in South End, at South Boulevard and Iverson Way.

“Are we aggressively looking at the state of North Carolina? Absolutely,” Brous said. “But we only have two signed leases.”

Its nearest stores are on Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill and on Charlotte Highway in Indian Land, S.C.

Rival Harris Teeter, meanwhile, is expanding its 44,000-square-foot store in the Jetton Village retail center, which is across West Catawba Avenue from Magnolia Plaza. The expansion will include a new pizza bar, cheese island and Asian-American hot bar, a walk-in beer cooler, expanded pastry, meat and produce departments and a new pet center.

The expansion should be complete by late summer, spokeswoman Catherine Reuhl Becker has said. The pharmacy is being rebuilt, and the store will add LED lighting and other sustainable features.

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Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter @ jmarusak.
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