Buehler's plan to draw Panera gets city's nod
Grocery store hopes restaurant will increase its business, attract more retail stores
If all goes according to plan, the city of Delaware will be home to a new Panera Bread in the spring.
On Monday, Aug. 26, City Council voted 6-0 to approve Buehler's expansion plan and a rezoning request that will allow the grocery store to construct three commercial buildings on West Central Avenue in front of the store's existing location.
Councilman Joe DiGenova was absent from the meeting, and is taking a leave of absence following surgery.
Buehler's leaders said the expansion will result in a contract with Panera. That could entice multiple retail stores to fill the other spaces, which won't be built until they're leased, officials said.
Council members agreed at their Aug. 12 meeting to move the Buehler's rezoning and development plans to third and final readings after residents complained about the traffic backups that a new restaurant and retail shops could bring.
A traffic study conducted by Traffic Engineering Inc. showed that between 10,000 and 13,000 cars travel in the area each day, with the peak times between 7 and 9 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m.
Dave Efland, city planning and community development director, said that with the first phase of construction, a right-in, right-out driveway will be constructed off West Central Avenue into and out of the presumed Panera lot.
As the other lots are leased and built, a full entrance with a turn lane will be constructed on West Central Avenue, and the entrance into the grocery store on Buehler Drive will become a right-in, right-out.
City Engineer Bill Ferrigno responded to residents who complained that traffic lights stay red too long in the area. He said Delaware has hired a full-time signal engineer to sort out the entire city's traffic-signal issues, especially in the Central Avenue corridor.
Despite the traffic concerns, Becky Foster, Buehler's director of construction and maintenance, said at the Aug. 12 meeting that if the store doesn't do something to bolster its declining sales, it could be forced to leave Delaware. She said Panera could be the answer.
"We need more traffic to that end of town," Foster said.
"Retail is really about an ecosystem," added Sean Hughes, Delaware's economic development coordinator. "One retailer thrives off of another retailer, and (Buehler's) needs some other retail out there to get foot traffic for them."
In 12 neighborhood revitalization studies completed by other Ohio cities, eight mentioned Panera as a target business to increase foot traffic to nearby businesses, he said.
Hughes estimated that a Panera would bring to Delaware 55 new jobs and a payroll of $500,000 to $1 million, which would result in at least $13,800 in yearly income taxes.
Hughes also presented council with Buehler's numbers to illustrate what the city would lose out on if the grocery store and the adjoining Ace Hardware were to shut down. The store currently employs about 250 employees and brings in a minimum of $55,000 in income taxes each year.
Although Buehler's development plan has been approved, Efland said all of the outlot tenants, including Panera, will be required to come before the city's Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council with individual development plans before construction can begin.