By Dan Moffett
Publix Super Markets and Manalapan are in the final stages of negotiations that appear likely to bring a store to the town’s Plaza del Mar shopping center by 2018.
“It looks like there’s a 95 percent chance that this will happen,” said a source close to the talks. “There are some details left to resolve, and the company has to complete its due diligence. But there’s nothing major left to work out.”
Publix has told the town it intends to build a 25,000-square-foot store — roughly half the size of a typical Publix, but larger than the 20,000-square-foot store the chain built on Dixie Highway in downtown Lake Worth five years ago.
During its March 22 meeting, the Town Commission voted to change an ordinance that prohibits displaying large trademark signs in the plaza, effectively making way for the familiar green-and-white Publix logo to come to Manalapan.
“The arrangements between Publix and the shopping center are in the final stages,” said Mayor David Cheifetz, “and we expect that they will be consummated very shortly. There are a few little technicalities that have to be dealt with, but other than that, it looks like we’re going to be having a Publix in Plaza del Mar — which we’re thrilled about.”
The plans would require demolition of buildings currently occupied by businesses, perhaps including The Palm Beaches Theatre.
Manalapan Town Manager Linda Stumpf said she expects Publix to submit design plans to the town’s architectural committee this summer, with the hope of beginning construction in early 2017.
Talks between the town and the supermarket chain began in the middle of last year and have gathered momentum in recent weeks. The new store would be the only Publix on the barrier islands between the town of Palm Beach and Pompano Beach.
Demographics are always a factor when Publix decides to build, and the decision to build at the Manalapan location is no exception. Slightly more than 150,000 people live within a five-mile radius of Plaza del Mar, and their average annual household income is about $75,000, according to U.S. Census statistics.
The Manalapan store figures to attract barrier island shoppers from as far south as Gulf Stream and even draw traffic from across the bridge. The roughly 1,500 residents of South Palm Beach would be within walking distance of a neighborhood Publix.
“I think most residents are driving to the Lantana Road Publix now,” said South Palm Mayor Bonnie Fischer. “I think everyone here will be going to this one instead.”
Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello said this is something South Palm Beach has been waiting for.
“People have been talking about a supermarket coming there for a long time,” Flagello said. “This is very exciting for the community.”
Matt Buehler, a representative from Kitson & Partners, the developer that runs the plaza, told Manalapan commissioners that the changes to the town’s sign rules that Publix wanted wouldn’t transform the look of the 103,000-square-foot center on the corner of East Ocean Avenue and A1A.
“It’s a requirement of the lease in order to allow them (Publix) to install their trademark sign,” Buehler said. “We’re not trying to change the appearance of the rest of the shopping center. We’re trying to keep it consistent with a nice, clean look.”
The commissioners didn’t hesitate to give their unanimous approval to the small concession for the supermarket giant.
Publix Super Markets Inc. is based in Lakeland and operates some 1,120 stores through the Southeast, with more than 180,000 employees. Last year, Consumer Reports ranked Publix the second-leading supermarket in the country for customer satisfaction, trailing only Rochester, N.Y.,-based Wegmans.
Publix did not return calls seeking comment.