Downtown Macon grocery store planned for Dannenberg building

lmorris@macon.comApril 25, 2013 

Plans for a grocery store, long thought to be a linchpin in downtown Macon’s revitalization, are taking shape in the Dannenberg building.

Architect Gene Dunwody Jr. said Thursday he and other downtown planners want to put a grocery in the building that’s under renovation at the corner of Poplar and Third streets.

“It’s not just a dream now,” said Dunwody, one of the Dannenberg’s owners. “We have decided to do it.”

Renovation of the 80,000-square-foot building began last year to turn the former department store into nearly 70 lofts and three commercial spaces.

Earlier this month, Kinetix Health Club announced it will move into 6,500 square feet on a portion of two of the four floors there.

“It’s a high priority for downtown to get a grocery store down here,” Dunwody said. “What our team has decided to do, literally in the last couple of days, is we are going ahead and trying to design a layout for somebody we can recruit who wants to do a modern-day, urban grocery.”

Dunwody plans to make an investment in the space, such as putting in coolers and necessary lighting.

“Whoever ends up with it, we can tweak it” to fit the needs of the grocery tenant, he said.

Dunwody has been working with advertising and marketing executive Steve Bell, and other possible tenants, to open a store there.

After Bell’s plans last year to convert a former bank building behind the post office on College Street into a grocery store didn’t pan out, Dunwody said he contacted Bell to help him find a suitable location.

Bell said Thursday the first location didn’t pan out because the owner found a buyer for the bank building faster than he could pull the grocery deal together.

Bell and his wife, Laura, toured the Dannenberg space Thursday and are excited about the prospects in the historic property built around the turn of the 20th century.

“We really like the space a lot,” he said. “I think it would be a home run for the Dannenberg and for us and for downtown. ... We are going ahead and try to accelerate (getting) back to our investors and see if we can go ahead ... and commit to making a deal.”

Bell said the Dannenberg seems to fit his vision.

“It fits our size, our needs,” he said. “It puts us in the right demographics. It puts us in the center of all loft development downtown. It puts us in a location that has ample parking and it gives us a ... unique space to make a ... unique grocery store. ... It fits what we consider a European urban market; it’s the right size, it’s walkable. ... It would have the staples people are looking for as well as those unique products and regional products.”

Dunwody said he has met with officials with downtown booster group NewTown Macon and asked if they would help finance some of the construction for a grocery. NewTown is a participant in the financing of the Dannenberg, and NewTown President Mike Ford said his organization also has been trying to find a downtown spot that’s suitable for a grocery store.

NewTown commissioned a study about eight years ago to determine if the time was right for a downtown grocery store, but it wasn’t, Ford said. Since then, the study has been revisited from time to time.

“It’s my opinion, with as many people that are starting to live downtown, that we are going to need a grocery store of some sort,” Ford said. “I think the Dannenberg is an excellent location and would work fine. ... I would expect we would assist in the financing to bring a grocery store there, too.”

Mayor Robert Reichert said he’s encouraged by the Dannenberg plan.

“A grocery store in downtown Macon would be a great asset to our residents and could help attract even more people to the area,” Reichert said in a statement. “This is definitely a need expressed by many people and organizations, and I’m encouraged that there are several efforts underway to make it happen.

“The Dannenberg Lofts project -- even before this interest in a grocery store -- is a game-changer for the revitalization and redevelopment of downtown.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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