Food Lion slow to move into new Columbia lair

Chain blames lease woes for village center delays

Howard County

October 13, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

More than nine months after Food Lion announced it would take up operations in the Oakland Mills Village Center, replacing a Metro Food Market that has been a dark hole in the center for two years, the grocer has yet to begin renovations.

Plans for the 42,000- square-foot store were stalled because of problems with the lease, a Food Lion spokeswoman said, and although the company expects the store to open next year, the spokeswoman said she did not know when renovations to the building could begin.

"The lease assignment has just been completed on that store. That took longer than expected," said Tammie McGee, a corporate communications specialist at the retailer based on North Carolina. "We're in pre-construction stage. It looks to be into 2004" for completion.

According to county officials, the company applied last month to renovate the building at 5896 Robert Oliver Place, but those permits have not been approved.

Barbara Russell, a Columbia councilwoman representing Oakland Mills, said the lack of action has been a disappointment for the community - the only village without a grocery store.

Oakland Mills has waited two years for news that that the void in their center would be filled, but Russell said residents have been patient.

"We were hoping there wouldn't be that much of a delay," she said. "We've been assured they're actually excited and enthusiastic about this location, but for economic reasons, or whatever is happening in the company, they have their own timetable."

Although McGee could not say when the company would begin construction, Kevin Allen of Kimco Realty, which owns and manages the village centers, wrote in an e-mail that plans for the store were "moving forward," and that construction should start "after the 1st [sic] of the year."

Food Lion had been expected to spend about $1.8 million on renovations when the lease was announced in January. Although it is unclear what amenities the Columbia store will offer, the grocery chain's stores typically contain a deli and bakery and some have pharmacies.

The chain's stores range in size from 30,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet and typically carry about 28,000 products, McGee said.

The grocer has 1,190 stores, primarily in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, 73 in Maryland.

Food Lion opened about 40 stores this year, after shutting 41 at the end of January, including two in Maryland, during a company restructuring, she said.

News that the chain was taking up the vacant spot in the village center was welcomed this year when it was announced at a community meeting.

Residents had continuously urged Rouse, and later Kimco, to find a grocer to fill the vacancy left by Metro when it closed in April 2001. Metro was the second grocer to fail in that location. In addition to being bordered closely by a newly renovated Giant Food store in Owen Brown and a Safeway in Long Reach, the store also is significantly smaller than its competitors.

The village center also has suffered several long-term vacancies in recent years.

A Royal Farms convenience store and an Exxon gas station had remained vacant for years in the center. The convenience store has been replaced by another, and a local developer has proposed building a senior housing complex on the site of the former gas station.

Residents have been eager to see an economic revival at the center that would draw more business, and are confident that a grocer's presence will help.

"The plus is they're making a significant investment and that's a good thing," Russell said.

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