story by Ryan Saylor
Whole Foods Market appears to have taken one more baby step toward a Fayetteville location.
Plans submitted to the city of Fayetteville this week show what appears to be a Whole Foods Market planned for 3535 North College Avenue, which would make the Fayetteville location the second in the state of Arkansas and the first in Northwest Arkansas.
Rumors have circulated for months that the company was exploring sites in northern Fayetteville, near the intersection of U.S. 71 and Millsap Road.
The site that was submitted for development by Fairburn, Ga.-based S.J. Collins Enterprises was previously the site of a Mercedes-Benz automobile dealership. Conceptual drawings submitted to the city clearly show a more than 35,000-square-foot building with a Whole Foods Market sign above the front entrance.
Multiple attempts to reach Whole Foods Market by telephone and e-mail were unsuccessful, as were attempts to contact S.J. Collins, which has previously developed several Whole Foods Market-centered retail developments in Florida and Virginia. Whole Foods' website does not list a Fayetteville store under development, though it does show a Little Rock store under development. It is unclear if the Little Rock development is a relocation of the store at Rodney Parham Road and Interstate 430 or if it is a new store.
Sources with knowledge of the Fayetteville project who spoke to the The City Wire said it was still early in the development process and no deal had yet been signed. But plans submitted to the city of Fayetteville show what is a large scale development at the former car dealership site that would be anchored by the Whole Foods Market. Plans call for an additional three small stores and about 330 parking spaces.
A source familiar with the project said the process for taking the development from proposed to permitted could be long and tedious. First, the developer will have to appear before the city for a plat review on April 16, where individuals on the review committee could make comments and the developers would revise plans based on the comments from the city.
On May 1, the Fayetteville Planning Commission Subcommittee will meet and additional revisions could be required based on comments from commissioners at that time.
Should developers not run into any major hurdles, the final step before receiving a building permit would be approval from the full planning commission at its May 12 meeting, though the project could be delayed or forced to go through the full planning process again should the development not gain approval from the commission.
The earliest the development is likely to receive a building permit is June or July, though a source with knowledge of the development plans said, "I don't see them going through the first time. They'll probably get pushed out to the next round due to comments (from the commission)."
With the project so fluid and no contracts yet signed, it remains to be seen if or when Northwest Arkansas residents may be able to shop locally at a Whole Foods Market. Should the project go through, real estate professional David Erstine of CBRE Northwest Arkansas — who is not connected to the project — told The City Wire in early March that it would be a boost to development along U.S. 71 (College Avenue).
“We see clients who want to locate retail to the region but in the Fayetteville area they all want to be near Joyce Avenue and the mall area. College Avenue does not fit their criteria. If a national player like Whole Foods does decide to invest on College Avenue, it could open the possibilities for others,” Erstine said.
Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, was upbeat about the news of a possible Whole Foods locating only a few miles up the street. The local food cooperative released the following statement regarding Whole Foods possible move to Fayetteville.
"We are excited to have another natural food and organic food store here in Fayetteville. The more access that people have to healthy foods in our city, the better it is for our community."