LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – What would be the ideal location for a downtown grocery?

Downtown resident Phil Scherer, president of the real estate brokerage Commercial Kentucky, thinks it's not the Central Business District, but the eastern edge.

Scherer said the Nulu area seems to offer the more apartment/condo residents as potential customers as well as “spillover” traffic from the Highlands and Clifton. 

In early 2013, a retail consultant hired by the then-Louisville Downtown Development Corp. reached that same conclusion, saying a Nulu-area store would capture business from Butchertown, Phoenix Hill, Old Louisville, Clifton and a portion of the Highlands. (Link to the 2013 study).

“(The) NuLu location is the most promising and logical location for the proposed supermarket,” Minneapolis consultant Keith R. Wicks wrote in a cover letter on his March 27, 2013 report. “Other downtown sites were considered and tested for a variety of format types, but NuLu has the best overall traits for that new store's success.”

But a year later, the downtown agency (now called the Downtown Partnership) had Wicks update the study.

The second version, dated March 10, 2014, contemplates two new downtown groceries – a small store like Paul's Fruit Market (4,000 square feet) and a 25,000-square-foot store, more on the order of a Fresh Market or Trader Joe's, at the proposed Omni hotel site in the central business district.

The updated study is dated four days after Mayor Greg Fischer announced that the long-planned redevelopment of the old “Water Co. block” was back on track, with Omni planning a 600-room hotel and the Cordish Co. planning about 200 luxury apartments and the downtown grocery. (Cordish has since exited, leaving the entire development to Omni).

Downtown Partnership executive director Rebecca Matheny said she isn't sure exactly what triggered the agency to update the grocery store study, saying she personally was “not at all close to that.”

“I vaguely remember that, in part why we updated it was the number of projects that got announced (or) completed in that period,” Matheny said.

Matheny said her predecessor Alan DeLisle initiated the updating of the study before he left the agency in October 2013, and it's possible he asked the consultant to “test the viability of the Omni” grocery plan. The staff member who oversaw the consultant's work has also left the agency, she said.

Wicks, the Minneapolis consultant, did not return a call for comment.

The cover of the updated study says its purpose is “assessing the feasibility of... new plans for developing food retail service” in downtown Louisville.

The updated study assumes that the Central Business District grocery would be a Consentino's Market. That is a family-run grocery business in Kansas City with a downtown store in the Power & Light District, Cordish's Kansas City entertainment district similar to its 4th Street Live development in Louisville.

The study assumes the Nulu-area store would be a Paul's Fruit Market. Paul's vice president Sally Thieneman said the family-run chain had considered a downtown location, but they don't believe the area would produce enough customers on nights and weekends.

Wicks concluded that either or both stores would do well in their respective locations, though he acknowledged that they would compete over some customers.

“The downside risk to opening stores in both locations is that the sites are 0.9 mile apart so that their convenience trade areas do overlap,” the study says.

To be sure, Wicks' original 2013 study did not rule out the possibility of two new downtown groceries and included projections for a 35,000-square-foot “discounter” grocery in the Central Business District.

“It is hypothetically possible that more than one new grocery is developed in the downtown market, if the grocery formats are distinctly different,” he wrote.

Scherer, the commercial broker who lives at Preston Pointe on E. Main Street, thinks a good grocery location would be something like the former Bunton Seed Co. at 939 E. Market St. – a 13,000-sqaure-foot building with a parking lot in the area where downtown transitions into the more residential Highlands.

The building was purchased last year by window treatments business Spindletop Draperies.

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