If you live in, work in, drive through or even think about Farragut, you’re probably aware of our empty grocery-store buildings. They’ve long been a sore subject around Town Hall, and for good reason. Nobody wants to look at an empty big-box retail center, especially if it’s literally falling apart.
Finally, there is good news to report on this front. Ingles has responded to multiple requests from the town to improve its former location with a redevelopment plan. Community Development Director Mark Shipley says the proposed façade improvement may go before the Municipal Planning Commission in March.
The expansion techniques of grocery-store chains are tough to fathom. Large chains often opt to leave empty (and unpopular) buildings in communities they count on to support them. Competition is clearly more threatening to the bottom line than bad public relations. Google “vacant Ingles stores,” and you’ll find other towns, like Boiling Springs, S.C., and Auburn, Ga., that have been plagued by decaying storefronts a few feet away from shiny, new stores.
It’s important for residents to understand that the town has been actively seeking a solution to the Ingles problem. Last April, staff asked for and received an on-site meeting with an Ingles representative to discuss numerous problems with the abandoned shopping center, including exterior trash, drainage problems in the parking lot, holes in the roof and walls, and broken glass. The building was not secured against entry, and it was obvious that people had been inside, Shipley says.
When company reps hadn’t resolved the issues by July, they received a letter and a phone call from Town Attorney Tom Hale, who was told that the site was being studied and long-term plans were being considered.
As of September, there had been no follow-up, so Hale sent another letter saying that if immediate action wasn’t taken, the town would take “formal steps to bring about a solution.” In October, staff inspected the site to confirm that no improvements had been made, and on Nov. 9, Shipley gave Ingles a Nov. 28 deadline to make repairs or be cited to Farragut Municipal Court. A court appearance would have resulted in a fine of $50 per day, per violation, dating back to the April inspection, Shipley says.
Ingles quickly responded with a request for a continuance and a design for a façade improvement. Two weeks ago, shingles were removed from the shopping center’s front façade, the soffit was repaired and an open window was boarded up.
Shipley is relieved that the company is finally taking action.
“We want Ingles to do something positive with the building. They’ve got a nice-looking building to the west. To me, we shouldn’t have to ask. It’s really valuable real estate, right there in the middle of town.”
Each abandoned big-box store has a different story. The empty Kroger down the road from Ingles is the result of the company holding a long-term lease on its former site to keep competitors away from the new Brooklawn Street store.The lease ends this year, and town staff have discussed the future use of the site with property owners.
Property issues like these can be complex and sometimes take longer to resolve than we would like. But residents should always assume that staff are working behind the scenes to make Farragut the best it can be.
Wendy Smith coordinates marketing and public relations for the town of Farragut.