PALMER -- Fred Meyer plans to build a new Palmer store -- across the road from the old one.
Confirming months of rumors, community affairs manager Melinda Merrill said Wednesday that Fred Meyer plans to build a new store on the former Carrs shopping center property starting next year or in 2016. That's on the other side of the Glenn Highway from the location Fred Meyer opened just 10 years ago in Palmer's dense downtown.
Fred Meyer in 2004 became the first big-box retailer in the core of this town built around a 1930s New Deal farm colony. The store sits along the Glenn between the post office and Evergreen Avenue, one of the busiest streets in town.
Some residents worried the retailer would disrupt the city's quaint charms, but over the years Palmer made peace with its Fred Meyer, which is big enough to offer groceries and other items including a little clothing -- socks, jeans and underwear -- but small enough that a temporary garden center sets up in the parking lot every summer.
The Palmer store is the smallest in Fred Meyer's network at just 66,000 square feet, Merrill said. That was as big as the company could build given the small size of the "assemblage of several parcels" available at the time.
Despite its small size, the store is not diminutive in terms of sales volume, she said. "The business is big. That community can support a bigger store. It does far more business than most stores its size."
The Northwest retail giant hopes to sell the existing property to another retailer, Merrill said. Portland-based Fred Meyer is owned by The Kroger Co., one of the nation's largest grocery retailers.
Fred Meyer plans next month to start demolishing Pioneer Square Shopping Center, the 30-year-old brown building that housed a Safeway/Carrs grocery store until 2010. That company opted to build a new store across the road too, on the other side of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway.
Plans call for at least a 100,000-square-foot new store on property purchased in mid-June from Carr Gottstein Properties, Merrill said. The new store is expected to cost $20 million to $30 million to build, and to add 100 jobs.
But Fred Meyer also hopes to buy an additional parcel just north of the Carrs property, which would allow the company to build a larger, 130,000-square-foot store, she said. "Which is still, honestly, not a big store for us. Wasilla is almost 169,000 square feet."
A Fred Meyer gas station at East Arctic Avenue and the Glenn will remain in place.
The larger store means Palmer shoppers will see what looks more like a "full line Fred Meyer," though with not as much merchandise as the stores in Wasilla or Eagle River, she said. There will be more furniture, apparel and garden supplies, as well as expanded natural food sections.
Judie Pearson, a 40-year Butte resident shopping at the Palmer Fred Meyer on Wednesday, said she liked the easier routes in and out of the future location. Traffic now sometimes backs up from the Evergreen access into Fred Meyer.
"I hope they put a department store here," Pearson said of the soon-to-be-former Palmer Fred Meyer location. "We all have to drive to Wasilla. Palmer needs something like that."
Fred Meyer's entry into Palmer was hard-fought. Frustrated residents crowded city council meetings back in 2003, raising questions about traffic, landscaping and lighting -- and wondering why the city didn't have a regulatory process to deal with big-box stores moving into the town center.
Fred Meyer's building permit was approved in July 2003, according to Sandra Garley, Palmer's community development director. The store opened in March 2004.
The city adopted a "large retail establishment" permit process for commercial buildings larger than 20,000 square feet in May 2004, Garley said. Before that, companies like Fred Meyer and Carr Gottstein could build to any size in a commercial zone without public hearings. Under the large retail permit process, a company must hold public meetings before submitting final plans to the city. An applicant who disagrees with the city's conditions can request a public hearing before the city council.
Fred Meyer has not yet submitted an application for review, Garley said.
Safeway went through the permit process when that company built its new store. Since then, the shopping center that Carrs once anchored has sat largely empty, save for a few smaller tenants at one end.
City officials are glad to have prospects for a thriving retail space there again but hope Fred Meyer gets a taker for its current location, Garley said. "The city has a real interest in making sure it does not stay vacant."
An upcoming road project will loop behind Fred Meyer's new location. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities expects to start work next year extending Dogwood Avenue from the Glenn Highway to the Palmer-Wasilla Highway at Felton Street. Fred Meyer contributed money to extend Dogwood from Cobb Street in downtown Palmer -- the road that goes by the post office -- to "help solve some transportation issues," Merrill said.
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