Writer: Casey Christ
For the past 20 years, the epicenter of Verde Plaza in north Gainesville sat empty. On the corner of Northwest 13th Street and 23rd Avenue, the 59,000 square foot space long sat empty and neglected.
On Wednesday, Lucky’s Market, an organic, natural foods store based in Boulder, CO. opened its Florida store and filled that 20-year void.
According to Betsy Whitaker, president of Asset Management, Inc. and manager of the plaza, the space is crucial to the success of the plaza and the businesses that comprise it.
That space was the last major piece in the plaza that needed to be filled in what has been and extensive and expensive effort by the property owners to bring the plaza back to life said Whitaker.
She said the owners invested millions in the plaza.
First a wing was added to house an O2BKids! location. Then the old theater was completely redone and replaced with a thriving Planet Fitness. Last the entire east end of the plaza had its façade replaced, giving it a fresh, new look, according to Whitaker.
All this work was done with the hope that it would revitalize the plaza and attract businesses to help rejuvenate, not only the plaza, but also northern Gainesville she said.
“This was a center that was totally dilapidated,” Whitaker said. “The value of the property was suppressed, which means real estate taxes were really low – we weren’t getting any real income as a community from the tax base. Now that it’s renovated, that’s totally different.”
The modifications also align with what city officials wanted for the area, according to Whitaker, which was to offer the residents of northern Gainesville an opportunity to shop where they live instead of having to travel across town.
She said that leads to fewer cars on the road, which is convenient for all residents.
“It’s a win-win. Everybody benefits,” said Whitaker.
With the addition of Lucky’s Market, Verde Plaza now only has 5,500 square feet of space available, where Godfather’s Pizza used to be.
Whitaker said the patio outside of the space would be perfect for a restaurant, which she believes will benefit from the many people coming to check out Lucky’s Market.
It is a sentiment many in the plaza are echoing.
Amber Herring, a manager at Great Clips, which is located feet from Lucky’s Market, said she has already seen a difference in the plaza and believes more business is coming.
“We’ve been planning on this for 4-5 months,” Herring said. “I think it (Lucky’s) will be the anchor for the plaza and will benefit everyone that’s in here.”
Zach Munson, a manager at Planet Fitness, agreed.
Munson said the direct impact of Lucky’s is hard to determine presently because everyone is still committed to his or her New Year’s resolution, but said as people start to lose sight of those resolutions the real impact of Lucky’s Market should be more apparent.
He added that he is sure the store will have a positive impact and help the area continue to grow.
“It’s one stop shopping,” Munson said. “To be able to go to the gym and live healthy and then shop and eat healthy in the same place—it’s great.”
In the big picture that aligns with one of chain’s main goals, according to Ben Friedland, the V.P. of Marketing for Lucky’s Market, which is to become a part of the local community.
In doing so, he believes the new store will bring an economic revitalization to local area and Gainesville as a whole.
Friedland said that starts with creating 150 new jobs to north Gainesville and utilizing local vendors producers to supply the store, thereby enhancing their business as well.
Lucky’s Market is using over 80 local vendors for its produce and gets other shelf items from companies that produce them locally.
One example is the DeConna Ice Cream Company.
Produced just south of Gainesville in Reddick, Fla. it serves over 4,500 clients across Florida and Georgia, but sees Lucky’s Market as a great opportunity to help expand business.
Nick DeConna, who is the grandson of the company’s founder Don DeConna, said it was an easy decision to make when the family was approached about selling its ice cream in Lucky’s Market.
“Once we did the research and saw how helpful and supportive they were to everyone (small businesses) in town – it was a no brainer,” DeConna said. “It’s a game-changer.”
When Lucky’s Market purchased the once rundown space it gave the plaza a long awaited opportunity and a new identity – an identity that has drawn crowds of people and created plenty of buzz around Gainesville.
Shoppers have the option of going to Verde Plaza, not just to run errands, but also to spend time and relax. From a calming pedicure or haircut to hitting the weights or grabbing a few items for a healthy dinner, Verde Plaza offers a nice mix of affordable, quality goods and services the residents of north Gainesville have been waiting for.
What Can I Find at Verde Plaza