A massive mixed-use development planned on Hartley Bridge Road in south Bibb County was expected to take seven to 10 years to fully build when it was announced in August 2006.
Plans by Moon Family Properties called for turning about 1,100 acres of undeveloped land in south Bibb County into a $490 million mega-development called Hartley Station with 700,000 square feet of retail and office space. The proposed project included 1,700 homes, a grocery store, restaurants, medical offices and a movie theater. The project included spots for three hotels, a home improvement center, an elementary school and several acres for green space and parks.
Within two years, the project faced a couple of early setbacks. Three Civil-War era graves were discovered on the site during construction. After several months and a court order, the graves were relocated to a nearby church. Then in spring 2008, construction was halted for a month after widespread erosion contaminated a wetland.
But eight years later, other than some retail stores and fast-food restaurants facing Hartley Bridge Road, the large site is vacant. Weeds and small bushes now cover the property.
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The recession changed everything, and the large development came to a standstill. Some of the property was taken back by the bank and later sold.
Two years ago, a smaller project was approved for Hartley Station by the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission.
It was to include a 69,400-square-foot shopping center with a Publix grocery store as the anchor, according to The Soran Group, which bought about eight acres in Hartley Station. Other tenants committed to the site included three restaurants, a nail salon and a package store, Robby Boggs, a development manager with The Soran Group, said at the time.
Shortly after that zoning meeting, “Publix had a change of heart and decided not to move forward with it,” Zan Thompson, a land planner with ZT3 Placemaker Studio, said last week.
It was a shock to the developer, Thompson said.
“But I guess like a lot of retailers, (Publix) began thinking ‘we may be doing too much too quick. Let’s re-evaluate everything we’re looking at,’ and they decided to pull that one,” he said.
Efforts to contact The Soran Group for comment were unsuccessful.
Thompson said Soran was Publix’s developer “and that’s why they bought (the land).”
According to the Bibb County tax assessor’s website, The Soran Group still owns the property.
Brenda Reid, media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets’ Atlanta region, said she was unable to comment about why the grocery chain did not move forward with the store or if the company still is considering Hartley Bridge Road.
“At this time we do not have a confirmed new site in the Macon area,” Reid said in an email. “We only comment on sites that are confirmed. Due to the competitive nature of the grocery business we do not comment on pending or possible future sites.”
King Kemper, an associate real estate broker with The Summit Group, is co-listing the remaining property for Hartley Bridge Road LLC, which bought the property in 2013. The address for this company is the same as for Rodgers Metal Craft Inc. in Fortson.
Efforts to reach someone with the company were unsuccessful.
“The hope is the Publix deal would come back to life and then there are at least one, if not two, good multi-family sites out there,” Kemper said. “We still think there is another big-box user ... to co-exist with the Publix. ... There are some strong demographics down there.”
Kemper said the current owner’s plan is similar to the original proposal.
“I think the plan would stay the course -- still some retail, then probably some mid-level office,” he said.
Kemper predicted a multi-family site would be developed on the north side of Hartley Bridge Road during the next few years.
The market “has definitely shown signs of coming back over the last 18 months,” he said. “Retail activity has picked up, and some development has picked up. Personally, I think -- between that and Bass Road -- it’s one of the top two development land areas overall in Bibb County.”
DEVELOPER FOR BASS ROAD PROPERTY OPTIMISTIC
In the north end of Bibb County, a Macon-based real estate company, Fickling & Co., has been holding on to about 170 acres of other development sites straddling Bass Road in north Bibb County since before the recession. Its expectations were that several other retailers would join Bass Pro Shops, which built a store and distribution center in 2006 off Bass and New Forsyth roads. Also, another development across Bass Road from the outdoor retailer on Starcadia Circle was planned which included at least one hotel.
Again, the recession brought a halt to those developments, according to the company.
Bobby Cleveland, vice president of commercial development for Fickling, sounded a bit optimistic last week that the commercial industry is improving.
“We are seeing some activity for the first time in forever,” Cleveland said. “We are seeing things thawing out around the country, particularly in Atlanta and to some extent in some secondary markets. Macon seems to follow those for some reason.”
The company has contracted to sell about 24 acres in the middle of Starcadia Circle to another retail developer, ”but that sale is contingent upon them landing a major anchor,” Cleveland said. “They are in discussions with several as I understand it. ... We expect something within 12 months. (The developer) has relationships with some major anchors around the country, so that gives them an edge.”
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.