Construction could start on a new mega King Soopers in Midtown Fort Collins this summer after the city’s planning and zoning board unanimously approved the grocer’s plans late Thursday night.
If everything goes as planned, the grocer’s “flagship” store at the old Kmart, 2535 S. College Ave., could open a year later, in summer 2022, said King Soopers’ senior real estate manager Don Forrest.
The 11-acre site sits at the corner of South College Avenue and Drake Road adjacent to the city’s MAX bus line on the west. The project includes about 100 parking spots for MAX riders on the south and west sides of the building.
The plan has been years in the making ever since Kmart closed in 2016. King Soopers bought the site in 2008, filed its first redevelopment plan in 2016 and held a neighborhood meeting but put those plans on hold because of market conditions in 2017.
Planning board members spent nearly five hours in the Zoom meeting discussing intricate details of the plan, including landscaping, building facade, preservation of trees on site, traffic flow, use of screening to minimize the fuel station’s view from South College Avenue and South College Heights, and why the plan doesn’t comply with the city’s 2013 Midtown Area Plan.
The proximity to mass transit and the blighted condition of the site made it a prime location for high-density commercial and residential development, according to the plan. And the city had hoped King Soopers would include a housing component.
But after years of discussion with the city, Kroger — King Soopers’ parent company — decided against adding housing above the grocery store or building a parking garage on the property.
Planning board member Jeff Schneider pressed city and King Soopers’ officials on why mixed use wouldn’t work at the site.
“The city is really trying to increase the density along the MAX line, and why not try to do something similar for this site?” he said.
Other locations with housing on top “haven’t proved to be in the best interest for King Soopers (or City Market, its other grocery brand) in some of those locations, said Carl Schmidtlein of Galloway & Co., Kroger’s planning and architecture firm.
“We reached out to residential developers to see if partnerships were there, but it didn’t prove to make much sense,” he said.
Forrest added that in the end, mixed use was not financially viable. “We’re a grocer and not in the business of providing residential. The reality is with grocers, there are very few mixed-use developments that have made their financial goals.”
Mixed-use projects are successful in high-density areas like downtown Los Angeles, New York City and downtown Seattle, he said, but not in smaller cities like Fort Collins. “Generally, they haven’t worked out and there was not much appetite for the risk of mixed use.”
The project includes replacing the small, outdated King Soopers at 2325 S. College Ave. with a 123,000-square-foot store similar to the North College Marketplace that opened in 2011, along with a new fuel station with seven gas pumps on the northeast end of the site.
Plans for the grocery store include a drive-thru pharmacy, parking spots for its grocery pickup program, a promenade on the west side of the building, pedestrian corridors through the site and a garden-themed outdoor plaza on the south side.
The former Radio Shack building will come down, to be replaced by the fuel station, and the now vacant Loaf ‘N Jug at Drake Road and College Avenue will be razed.
The fuel center is being moved because of the dilapidated condition of the tanks, King Soopers’ officials said. The Loaf ‘N Jug site will be left vacant for future redevelopment. A new bus pullout will also be constructed by the former convenience store.
The shopping center that included the former Larkburger will remain, as will the Jiffy Lube at the corner of Drake and College.
The planning board also approved four modifications to city code, including landscaping setbacks, facade design, walkways and building orientation.
The site sits in the city’s urban renewal area at College and Drake, which gives the URA board the authority to use tax increment financing, or TIF.
As tax revenue from the area increases with redevelopment and higher property values, money that comes in above a base level may be used to help developers pay for public improvements.
Fort Collins senior planner Kai Kleer said Kroger intended to ask for TIF money to help pay for street improvements and potentially for construction of the promenade.
Moving the South College Avenue King Soopers to the old Kmart site opens up about 53,000 square feet of space that is currently being marketed, Schmidtlein said. King Soopers leases its current space, but he said the store’s shell may be divided into two tenants rather than one.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.