A major shopping center is coming across the county line in August and Madison County leaders see both good and bad for their home county.
The development, which will include a large Kroger, will bring new job opportunities and shopping options for Madison County residents, but it will likely pull sales from Ingles, Madison County’s largest business and sales tax contributor.
The 28-acre Trail Creek Village is planned at the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Hwy. 72 in Clarke County. According to Gavin Hassemer, long-range planner for the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, the new Kroger will be 123,500 square feet, with four different shopping buildings housing a variety of businesses, such as banks, fast-food and sit-down restaurants and office spaces. The entire shopping complex will be 154,926 square feet — including the Kroger. A traffic light will be installed on Hwy. 29 at First Madison Bank to allow easy access to the development.
The fourth Kroger in Clarke County will be the largest business in the Trail Creek development. The identities of the other commercial establishments planned in the development have yet to be released.
Barak Zuckerman, developer for the shopping center with Cideco Development Company, said construction of the shops surrounding Kroger will begin in March, with a planned opening date of August, along with Kroger.
“We’ve been signing tenants,” said Zuckerman. “We have several more we’re working with to get all the shop spaces leased.”
Zuckerman said he plans to announce all of the planned businesses in the development in the next 60 to 90 days. He said he’s “looking at about 15 businesses” locating in the development and that he’s talking with five restaurants.
Madison County leaders have voiced concerns regarding the development and its likely impact on sales tax collections in the county.
“Ingles is such a large part of the sales tax for Madison County,” said Madison County school superintendent Allen McCannon. “Yes, we are concerned. We have been told that Ingles may contribute 8 to 10 percent of the total E-SPLOST revenue. As all taxpayers should do, I encourage all Madison County residents to buy local when possible.”
McCannon pointed out that the school system pays for construction bonds with education special purpose local option sales tax (E-SPLOST) money. The school system used to levy a bond millage rate on property owners, but the school board discontinued that tax and now relies on the E-SPLOST for old construction payments.
“We were hoping to have some additional E-SPLOST revenue to help with roofs and other needs,” said McCannon. “If our E-SPLOST goes down, we may have to fund these roof repairs with M&O (maintenance and operations) dollars.”
Madison County Chamber of Commerce president and industrial authority executive director Marvin White said the county tried to get Kroger to locate in Madison County.
“We’ve been trying to get a Kroger here for some time,” said White. “But they said there weren’t enough rooftops to justify Ingles and Kroger right there together.”
Prior to the announcement of a new Kroger, Madison County appeared set for more grocery space.
Ingles had announced plans a couple of years ago to expand its store in Hull, but the store hasn’t moved forward with any such action. Store leaders had not returned phone calls as of press time.
Dill’s Food City purchased property at the corner of Hwy. 72 and Foote McClellan Road and announced plans for a store at the intersection. It has since backed off the project. White said he hopes Dill’s will eventually locate a store off Hwy. 72.
In recent years, the county industrial authority has installed a sewer system in the Hull area in hopes of luring businesses to the area. The group has also installed a number of water lines in the southern section of the county with the aim of boosting the county’s commercial base.
“We desperately need business in this county,” said White, who pointed out that Danielsville has welcomed several new businesses in recent months.
White said Kroger will have a negative impact on county sales tax dollars.
“I think it will have a huge impact on the county, but hopefully that will be in the short term,” said White, who noted that a number of Clarke County residents shop at Ingles and will now have a shorter drive to the new Kroger.
Despite the short-term hit in sales tax revenue, White said he hopes the development will spur growth up Hwy. 29 and east down Hwy. 72 into Madison County. He said there aren’t any major developments in the works in Madison County, but he said the owner of 19 acres on Hwy. 29 near the veteran’s clinic has cleared trees and is aiming to bring a commercial establishment to that land at the Madison/Clarke County line.
“Over time, I’m hoping it (the Trail Creek development) will bring business up Hwy. 29,” he said. “If you look at Oconee County when Kroger and Home Depot came, that’s all there was. But that area has grown by leaps and bounds.”
Madison County commission chairman Anthony Dove said he also anticipates a short-term hit for the county in sales tax collections.
“It will definitely impact us, especially when it first starts,” said Dove. “But I think it will even out over time.”
Dove said he sees a number of positives in the development. He noted that “it’s good sign to see people investing in stuff again.” He said he feels “competition is a good thing” and that “a lot of Madison County people will get jobs” at the new development. And he shares White’s hope that the development will ultimately bring growth up Hwy. 29 and east down Hwy. 72 into Madison County.
But he urged Madison County residents to be aware of the impact shopping in the county has on their schools and local services. He noted that Clarke County won’t ever suffer for sales tax revenue, not with the university in Athens. But he said Madison County needs every sales tax dollar it can get. The county brings in roughly $2 million per year off every one cent of tax. These funds are used to cover a wide variety of public services, such as schools, roads, law enforcement and emergency operations. Meanwhile, Clarke County brings in approximately $20-to-$21 million per year per penny of tax, according to the Clarke County finance office.
“It’s very important that people be conscious that every dollar they spend in the county, we keep three cents here,” said Dove.