WILMINGTON—An under-construction Harris Teeter will capitalize on an influx of residents near the intersection of Independence Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road, bringing more grocery options closer to the Riverlights community and Echo Farms.
While the project has been ongoing for four years, developer Dean Scarafoni said Harris Teeter just recently secured approvals from its parent company Kroger to move forward with the plan. It will bring the brand’s largest store in southeastern North Carolina to Wilmington, with 92,000 square feet of building area, according to Scarafoni..
Construction on the project, called The Crossroads at Independence, began in November and is expected to finish by April 2022.
“I knew that this part of the city was growing even more than other parts,” said Scarafoni, president of Live Oak Development Company. “And I was aware the thing that really stood out was the development happening off of River Road, Riverlights being the biggest project.”
At 1,358 acres and approved for more than 1,400 lots, Riverlights is a sub-10 minute drive from the project site at the Independence Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road intersection. The intersection has other quadrants still largely composed by green space, some of which is currently unbuildable. The location was prime, according to Scarafoni, seeing as most “everything [else] has been built out” around the greater Wilmington area.
“It’s really market knowledge, and maybe the ability to kind of imagine it works there,” Scarafoni said. “This was a great location; I think really any number of people could have understood that. But then you have to marry that with your anchor tenant. That takes maybe stubbornness more than anything else.”
Scarafoni initially got Harris Teeter on board after researching the surrounding areas and presenting the site plan to the company, which did independent research too, he said.
A spokesperson for Harris Teeter wrote in an email the company considers a multitude of factors when looking for a new site.
“Harris Teeter is always reviewing new real estate opportunities to drive growth and strengthen our brand in existing and new markets,” the spokesperson said. “Our decisions, however, to build or maintain stores are never based on one thing but rather a variety of factors including size and configuration of sites, existing and future traffic patterns, the proximity of existing Harris Teeter locations, and other economic considerations including residential growth.”
Glenn Harbeck, director of planning, development and transportation for the City of Wilmington, said placing grocery stores along popular commuting routes is an ideal way to ease traffic congestion. Most grocery shopping is done on the way home from work and Saturdays, he said, so it’s always a goal to put grocers in a location where residents can make easy right turns both in and out of the property.
“It’s been said that we don’t have a traffic problem in the City of Wilmington; we do have a traffic problem getting traffic in and out of the City of Wilmington,” Harbeck said. “The farther out people go in search of affordable housing, for example, is sort of a self-defeating search because, while they may build farther out, thinking they can get away from traffic, they’re really causing the traffic problem by doing their commute on the few major roads coming into town.”
Harbeck mentioned River Road, Carolina Beach Road and Independence Boulevard as examples of Wilmington’s once-outlying roads that are seeing upticks in commuters.
Harbeck said infrastructure in the area is suitable to accommodate a project like this one. While a N.C. Department of Transportation plan to make improvements to Independence Boulevard could affect the location, the idea is on the back burner because of DOT funding issues.
Scarafoni added a DOT project that would have involved connecting a new Cape Fear River crossing route to Independence Boulevard would have been an issue.
“That meant a very large land-taking, and the project couldn’t have been done if that had gone forward,” he said. “DOT pulled back on that, and we were able to go forward.”
The site plan calls for additional buildings that will be rented out to local and national tenants, and a Harris Teeter fuel pump station. Greater Wilmington Business Journal reported the site will include a Starbucks, pet center, pharmacy and many other amenities. Though a Food Lion sits just across the street, grocers don’t shy away from the competition, Scarafoni said.
“The grocers actually like to be near one another because the way they assess a location, it’s all about demographics and population and traffic, and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “They coincide, and Food Lion and Harris Teeter are next to each other all over North Carolina. Food Lion feels the same way. Having competition doesn’t bother them.”
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