Last month, the “Potato Field” developers secured approval from the Cutler Bay Town Council to move forward with the development of the Shoppes of Cutler Bay project.
Developers promise a new, larger Publix among its retail mix. In the midst of the positive accolades from the town council, thanking the developer for working with town staff, and making what the council viewed as substantive changes to the original plan, Mayor Ed MacDougall brought up one last point which we view as an 800-pound gorilla for Cutler Bay: What happens to Old Cutler Towne Center (OCTC)?
The mayor asked about the Publix situation and nothing short of implored the applicant’s legal counsel to work with Publix and avoid hurting one center by moving to the other.
The problem is the damage already may be done. The new owners of Old Cutler Towne Center purchased the facility in December of 2010. They found out about Publix moving to a potential new location two-tenths of a mile away by reading about it in this newspaper. According to the owners of OCTC, Publix never divulged it potentially was moving.
Furthermore, Publix exercised a lease extension, which now affords them control of their space, potentially for the better part of the next 15 years. All this occurred without the new owners ever having any idea of the eventual Publix move.
The mayor’s desire to not have the new shopping center hurt the older one is commendable, but unlikely if Publix does not release the lease. The math is very simple in a shopping center such as OCTC — a major supermarket drives foot traffic to the other retailers, some 30 of them in this case — and many of them longtime local businesses owned by Cutler Bay residents.
Without a supermarket anchor, these 30 or so retailers are on their own, and history does not treat centers like OCTC kindly when there is no supermarket anchor. Even if Publix were to sublease the space to another non-competing retailer, such as a Big Lots, the foot traffic does not compare to a supermarket. The difference in volume is huge. Should Publix simply wish to pay the rent and leave the space empty, OCTC would be completely decimated.
The options are few for OCTC. That Publix moves, continues to pay the rent and leaves the space empty would be a devastating worst-case scenario. Renting to a lesser retailer would be the proverbial band-aid on a bullet wound; but the small businesses would come and go, and most likely as a result OCTC would eventually mirror the many crippled centers along S. Dixie Highway (US1).
The right thing for Publix to do is give the space back allowing the owners to negotiate with a competing grocery store. There’s certainly more than enough room in Cutler Bay for two supermarkets as the current Publix is reportedly one of their most profitable stores. It’s the only option that will help the smaller, homegrown retailers survive.
I believe that Cutler Bay has been very good to Publix, and Publix always has claimed to be a good friend to the community. Here’s a great opportunity to prove it.