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After ‘long journey,’ Publix opens in midtown Mobile

Customers lined up early Saturday morning outside Midtown Mobile’s new Publix, eager to flood into the store on its first day of business.

“Good morning Mobile! What are you doing here on a Saturday morning?” Publix official Dwaine Stevens said to those at the front of the line, just before a ceremonial ribbon cutting. He added, “We’re just as excited as you” before introducing store manager Colby Holmes and assistant manager Erica White.

“It has been a long journey,” said District 1 City Councilman Fred Richardson, who’d championed the project. Three more council members attended: Bess Rich, C.J. Small and Gina Gregory. At least a couple of them stuck around to do a little shopping after the ceremony.

The supermarket occupies a site formerly occupied by the Augusta Evans School at the intersection of Florida Street and Old Shell Road. The campus had been closed, and the Mobile County Public School System agreed to sell it to make the development possible.

The project generated some backlash, as some area residents argued the plan did not fit the character of the surrounding neighborhoods or the Map for Mobile development plan. Some compromises were made in the layout and features of the shopping center.

On Saturday morning, Richardson focused on the positives, saying he appreciated Publix’ decision to add a store east of I-65 and that it was a boon to District 1, where unemployment was higher than the city average.

“Every council member of the council voted for it, every member of the school board voted for it, every member of the planning commission voted for it,” he said.

Even after approval, the project faced some challenges, including stop-work orders as the city faulted workers for not following some aspects of the approved plan. The biggest challenge was weather: John Argo, an executive with developer MAB American, said he thought builders had lost “about 130 days” due to persistent rains.

Argo said work on the site isn’t quite done. Though G Harvell men’s clothier already has moved into its new home in the shopping center, other buildings await finishing work. Over the next few weeks workers also will finish landscaping, including the planting of trees in a buffer zone on the east side of the site and finishing up some fencing.

One building, which will house a Taco Mama and a Rock ‘n’ Roll Sushi restaurant, has to be built. Argo said developers aim to have that building completed by June.

“We’re a construction site for a little while longer,” Argo said.

WORDS: Lawrence Specker

Originally published in AL.com on 25 March 2018