Developer seeks East End Food Co-op as Garden Block anchor tenant

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A 90-day contract extension from the Urban Redevelopment Authority has given Garden Theater Block developer Wayne Zukin more time to court financiers and tenants for the project.

Developers Zukin Development and Collaborative Ventures hope to secure the East End Food Co-op as the project’s anchor tenant in the former Garden Theater.

In late October, the URA, which owns the entire Garden Theater Block, entered into a 90-day exclusive negotiation period with Zukin Development and Collaborative Ventures for the development of the North Avenue and Federal Street properties.

Last week, the URA agreed to extend the contract for another 90 days, giving Zukin more time to complete a market study that he, and most of the neighborhood, hopes will win the hand of the organic grocery store.

The market study, paid for by Zukin and the food co-op, will show whether or not there is enough of a customer base in the area to support a second grocery store, said co-op General Manager Rob Baran.

Baran expects the study to be completed in February.

The Central Northside Neighborhood Council is helping the developers out not by enticing the co-op with flowers and chocolates, but with an online petition showing the community’s interest.

Between Jan. 12 and 20, 400 people signed the petition. CNNC President Greg Spicer said the petition gathered more than 300 signatures in the first 24 hours, and the council is hoping for 500 signatures total.

Spicer said the neighborhood group made the petition to show its support for the co-op before the market study was completed.

“We’re pretty confident that our neighborhood has a strong interest,” Spicer said. “We’ll see what the market study says. I think we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Baran said the co-op is considering a second location and is in “expansion mode,” but ideally would not want to open a second location until the second half of 2012.

“The Northside [development] is moving a little faster than we are planning for, but we like the neighborhood,” Baran said. “We’re not sure there’s enough business there for us yet.”

But, Baran added, “We’re taking it seriously.”

Although the petition won’t be a deciding factor in the co-op choosing its second location, Baran said it will help.

The 90-day extension also gives Zukin more time to court other possible tenants, finalize design plans and secure financing as the process has taken longer than expected, Zukin said.

“We decided to take a step back and talk to anyone and everyone about what would work,” Zukin said.

The developers discarded an initial plan to tear down 2 and 4 W. North Ave. and to build a medical building along Federal Street, and now plan on demolishing only 2 W. North, keeping the façade of 4 W. North and building a smaller retail front that could house a bank.

The rest of the buildings, including the historic Garden Theater, Masonic Lodge and Bradbury Building and those on Federal, will be restored.

Zukin declined to discuss estimated construction costs or estimated project completion date, but said he hopes to start construction by the end of this year.

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