Officials gathered Friday morning to break ground on an, at times, controversial retail development in Midtown.

John Argo, the developer of the $15 million shopping center project, anchored by a Publix grocery store, said the development would spur other business near the intersection of Old Shell Road and Florida Street.

“Other good things will happen in Midtown because of this,” he said from a podium just off the worksite. “Other business will benefit.”

At times, the debate over building placement, buffers and other aspects of the project was acrimonious, but Argo said he appreciated the input, especially from the neighborhood advocacy group, Midtown Mobile Movement.

“Midtown Mobile Movement gave good input,” he said. “I hope you’ll be proud of what we do.”
The advocacy group’s President Ashley Dukes stopped short of fully endorsing the project, but she said she was glad many of the initial issues were worked out.

“We are happy we were able to make a positive impact on the development,” she said.

The most successful change came in the placement of the proposed building, she said. The group was able to have it moved closer to Old Shell Road to allow for on-street parking.

“That is one of the elements of smart development,” she said.

Councilman Fred Richardson, who was unable to attend the groundbreaking ceremony due to the death of his niece, said in a statement read by City Clerk Lisa Lambert that Midtown Mobile Movement “made sure the development was the best it could be.”

Mayor Sandy Stimpson also acknowledged the “scrutiny” the project was under. However, he said it would give the neighborhood a “shot in the arm.”

Richardson added that Publix would be going into an underutilized area without access to a “major” grocery store, according to the statement read by Lambert.

Argo said, in addition to the Publix, the center would include five buildings with room for about 15 shops and restaurants. The development would create about 200 temporary construction jobs and about 250 permanent jobs. Depending on how much rain the area gets this summer, construction could be completed before the end of the year, or in the first quarter of 2018.