By Sue Botos
What started out as a grassroots citizens campaign in 2009 has come to fruition as the city Planning Commission has given its final endorsement to plans for a Whole Foods market in the River Square Shopping Plaza on Detroit Road.
At a brief meeting last week, Mark Hughes, executive construction manager for Whole Foods, reported to the commission that a final tweak to the proposal, replacing some of the building’s glass facing with brick, has been worked into the plans. The adjustment came at the request of the city architectural design review board.
John Fisher, whose family has owned the center for about 40 years, thanked the planning commission for the vote of confidence, stating that he hoped the addition of the Texas-based grocery chain, which specializes in healthy foods and products, will breathe new life into the plaza.
“This is critical,” said Fisher of the addition of Whole Foods. He said he hoped the market would anchor the plaza, built in the 1960s, as the long-departed Pick-N-Pay grocery and Marshall’s drugstore once did.
“It (the plaza) has never been what we envisioned. With your help, it will be,” Fisher told the commission.
The market, which is scheduled to open in 2014, will occupy the space now taken by Fitworks, the former Rite Aid pharmacy and a small Chinese restaurant. The project will also benefit the Rockport Shopping Center on Center Ridge Road, which is undergoing a revival as well, when Fitworks moves into part of the old Target store, which has been vacant since 2007. City officials have indicated that there has been some interest expressed in the building’s remaining square footage.
Residents have been hungering for a Whole Foods since 2009, when Paul Fresty began a Facebook campaign called “Bring Whole Foods to Rocky River.” The page quickly drew thousands of supporters.
However, there were a few bumps in the road. Although those posting on Facebook were glad to hear that city had landed the only West Side Whole Foods location (there is one in University Heights and one in Woodmere), they were not as enthusiastic about the site, pointing out that Detroit Road is already congested, and that nearby school zones for Rocky River Middle School and St. Christopher School will add to traffic snarls. In addition, Rockport is zoned for general business, while River Plaza is zoned for local business. Residents expect Whole Foods to draw shoppers from as far away as Sandusky.
Many of those posting on Facebook and other residents who attended an April public hearing about the project felt that the former Target building would have been a better location for Whole Foods, offering more parking and fewer opportunities for traffic jams. They pointed out that Rockport met all of Whole Foods’ criteria for a building site, and was farther away from homes and schools. Architect Jim Volsky told the gathering at the public hearing that Rockport was too out-of-the-way. “We prefer to be in the heart of the city,” he stated.
The approximately 40,000-square-foot building will be a modern, glass-faced structure fronted by a cafe. Whole Foods officials state the glass makes a shopper feel like they are a part of the building even before entering.
Volsky said that the intent is to see into the building, which will have no traditional ceiling, rather exposed, high-end ductwork.
The proposed size of Whole Foods will eclipse the 27,244-square-foot area of Earth Fare, a similar market which opened in Fairview Park’s Westgate shopping center in December 2011.
“This will be a neighborhood gathering place,” promised Volsky, who said that Whole Foods is one of the few grocery stores to have won design awards.
Mayor Pam Bobst commented, “They (Whole Foods) love Rocky River. They (will be) a good neighbor to the community.”