Originally created 12/01/05

Plans to renovate center would juggle store lineup

The Village Plaza retail strip on Bobby Jones Expressway is capped at either end by Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores - but a renovation plan proposed by the shopping center's owner could move those stores closer together.

Architectural plans submitted to Richmond County's planning and zoning officials show the Sam's Club on the property's south end would be demolished and rebuilt about 400 feet to the north, on space currently leased by Tractor Supply Co. and Sportsman's Link.

The plans drawn up for Village Plaza owner U.S. Properties Group also show the Wal-Mart would undergo a 58,700-square-foot expansion to the south, occupying property that includes the Bi-Lo supermarket, which is scheduled to close Saturday.

Specifics on the project, including its timeline, are unknown because the company has not submitted an official site plan for the project.

Cindy Hicks, the vice president of leasing and development for Columbus, Ohio-based U.S. Properties, declined to comment on the project until after meeting with Richmond County officials next week.

Phone messages left with the Georgia spokesman for Wal-Mart and Sam's Club were not returned.

U.S. Properties submitted the conceptual plans to get a variance to the county's parking ordinance because the reconstruction, if approved, would leave fewer parking spaces than the county requires for a development of that size.

The parking reduction will result from the $85 million Interstate 20/Bobby Jones Expressway interchange project, which will obliterate a section of Village Plaza's southwest corner and the nearby RaceTrac convenience store when construction begins in 2008.

U.S. Properties' parking variance has been approved and the county's tree board is reviewing the landscape plans, said Bob Austin, a building official with Richmond County's planning and zoning department.

Village Plaza predates the county's landscape ordinance.

"It would be a real improvement," Mr. Austin said of the proposed retrofit. "Right now (the center) is a sea of asphalt."

Other than the preliminary drawings, there has been no formal announcements by U.S. Properties or its anchor tenants that a major reconstruction is in the works.

That worries Sohail Abdulla, whose 63,000-square-foot Sportsman's Link sporting goods store leases space where the new 153,200-square-foot Sam's Club store would be located.

He said he still has several years left on his lease agreement and that he is not interested in moving. Since making that sentiment known several months ago, Mr. Abdulla said, relations between him and the center's owner have soured.

He said U.S. Properties has refused to make repairs to the building and that company officials have hurt his business by spreading the word that his store's space is slated for demolition.

"Every day someone asks us if we're moving or closing," he said. "They can't throw us out, but they can destroy us in the meantime."

U.S. Properties is reportedly trying to find a new location for Tractor Supply Co., whose 22,500-square-foot space would also be razed for the new Sam's Club.

A manager at the store said a deal has not been finalized and referred questions to the Brentwood, Tenn.-based chain's corporate spokesman, who did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment.

Of the 19 storefronts at the 490,000-square-foot shopping center, six are vacant.

Based on the plans U.S. Properties submitted to county officials, the large storefronts occupied by Office Max, Great Deals Furniture and Dollar Tree would remain intact.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

Village Plaza Bi-Lo is Closing

Bi-Lo LLC said Wednesday it will close its Village Plaza store effective Saturday, a move that would make it easier for a proposed expansion of the shopping center's Wal-Mart store.

"It has been an underperforming location for us," Bi-Lo spokeswoman Joyce Smart said of the 36,000-square-foot store, which opened in 1988.

The Bi-Lo occupies part of the space earmarked for a proposed expansion of the 149,200-square-foot Wal-Mart store to the "supercenter" range of 212,700 square feet.

Ms. Smart said the store's 40 employees have already been offered jobs at other area Bi-Lo stores.

- Damon Cline


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