The new Kroger Marketplace is not just big in size but also is expected to have a big impact.
The store, at 123,000 square feet, is nearly three times the size of the store the company vacated barely a mile south. The new Kroger Marketplace also is a $26 million investment.
”We’re real proud to be able to come to Rincon and invest that kind of money,” said Bruce Lucia, president of Kroger’s Atlanta Division. “We’re able to do that because of the way you folks have supported Kroger.”
The size of the store and its offerings have multiplied and so has the workforce. Kroger has gone from employing around 70 to 320 workers.
“The best part is (we) employ 320 associates and we brought 250 new jobs to Rincon,” Lucia said.
Lucia noted the store’s management team and department heads have amassed more than 160 years of experience.
“They are true professionals,” he said. “They know their business, and I am proud of them.”
The fuel center alongside Columbia Avenue has been open since December, and the plans for the tract include more development. There are two outparcels and a strip of land reserved for retail outlets.
“This is big for Rincon and Effingham County in a lot of ways,” said Rincon Mayor Ken Lee, who retired in 2014 after 39 years with Kroger. “I think this will prompt and encourage other businesses.”
Lee said one of the complaints he hears most frequently is the dearth of sit-down style restaurants in Rincon and he’s asked when those establishments will come.
“Let me make a prediction — now,” he said.
Arahn Hawkins, who leads Kroger’s real estate division in Atlanta, said the largest outparcel has been sold and said it will be a restaurant-type use.
“We don’t restrict what goes there; we just want to make sure it fits in with the development,” he said.
There are serious negotiations for the second outparcel, adjacent to the fuel center, Hawkins said. That prospective buyer will be held to the same standards in development, he said.
Kroger owns the strip of land reserved for retail outlets and will be developing that, Hawkins said. The stores, perhaps seven to nine, depending on their size, will occupy from 8,000-10,000 square feet. There was a slight change from the original plans because of the demand, Hawkins, and construction is expected to start in 30-60 days.
Hawkins said the assistance of the city and the state Department of Transportation with the new traffic signal at Brentwood Drive helped.
“These are challenging processes,” Hawkins said. “It’s such a big investment. But it’s great to see it go from start to finish.”
With the outparcels and the retail strip, the final investment will “far exceed” $26 million, Hawkins added.
Hawkins also said the addition of 250 jobs will have an impact.
“The customers and the city of Rincon deserve it,” he said of the new Marketplace. “The customers absolutely deserve it. This will show there are customers who want to shop.”
Kroger’s former location, on Highway 21 and Silverwood Drive, was a leased property. Kroger’s lease expires at the end of August. What becomes of the property is up to the owner, Hawkins noted.
“We’re not sure what the plans are,” he said.
Lee believes the new Marketplace may help turn the tide of Effingham shoppers spending their time and money in west Chatham County — and influence Chatham residents to venture across the county line.
“One thing we have always had some difficulty with this being a bedroom community of Savannah. But I think this location will be one of the biggest things to reverse the trend,” he said. “This will bring people from Chatham County to Effingham County to shop.”