Kmart

Customers approach the entrance of the Athens Kmart on July 7, 2017, the same day Sears Holdings Inc. announced the store would close.

Next year, Athens residents will get a second Publix supermarket when a new shopping center and more retail shops arrive. 

The new development, called MidTown Centre, could generate 150 jobs when it opens at the old Kmart property at 104 U.S. 31. A roundabout and a signalized intersection are part of the plans.

City Council members voted 4-0 Monday to approve a resolution and ordinance allowing Athens Associates LLP to develop the shopping center. Ming Commercial Real Estate Group of Athens is a development partner. 

Demolition of Kmart and construction of MidTown Centre is expected to begin this summer, with opening in fall 2021. 

Plans call for a 48,387-square-foot Publix with 11,200 square feet of adjoining small shops. The names of the other shops that will occupy the additional space have not yet been made public.

Safety additions  

Development includes a traffic signal in front of the old Kmart building and across from Athens Middle School, which is expected to improve traffic flow and safety at the shopping center and the school, officials said.

Development will also include a roundabout on Pryor Street that will feed into the back of the development. The addition of the roundabout is intended to ensure safe traffic flow in and out of the development.

Mayor Ronnie Marks said at his state of the city address: "The city believes the proposed economic development project will create new jobs in the city, will generate additional tax revenues for the city, will increase commerce in the city and will generally promote the economic development of the city."

Traffic signal

The resolution approved by the council during its regular meeting basically authorizes the mayor to enter into a project agreement between the city and Athens Associates, which calls for a Publix supermarket-anchored shopping center, said City Clerk Annette Barnes. The agreement also determines the expenditure of public funds outlined in the agreement is in the public interest and allows the mayor to approve other documents to make the project happen, she said.

The agreement says the city will do the improvements on the U.S. 31 traffic signal, which will benefit the new development and the middle school.

"The signal is really needed, anyway," Barnes told The News Courier on Tuesday. "And there has been discussion between the mayor and the superintendent (Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay) that the school system share the cost with the city."

While there is no firm cost estimate for the upgrade, officials have been discussing between $800,000 and $900,000, she said.

Roundabout

The cost of the roundabout, estimated at about $800,000, will be paid upfront by the developer, Barnes said. However, once the Publix supermarket opens, the city will reimburse the developer for his costs for the roundabout within the next six years by rebating the sales tax generated by the development, she said.

An ordinance approved during the meeting directed the mayor to rebate 100% of the sales tax generated by the development over six years, or until the developer's out-of-pocket costs are reimbursed, whichever happens first.

For example, if in three years the development generates $800,000 in sales tax, the city would rebate that and the reimbursement would be accomplished early. However, if in six years the development generates only $500,000 in sales tax, which the city would rebate, the city is done, Barnes said.

The city will manage the roundabout project and bill the developer, Barnes said. The developer will have to provide to the city a letter of credit covering the cost of the roundabout project in case the developer abandons the project or cannot finish it.

"The letter of credit is like an insurance policy or a bond," she said.

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