ELKHART — Developers and community leaders kicked off a $40 million project Tuesday, a vital part of a renovated River District featuring a new Martin’s Super Market and new apartments downtown.
The River Point West project, as it has been named, will place a new Martin’s store in the existing East Jackson Boulevard store’s parking lot, while the new apartments will partly be placed where the existing store is located, thereby getting the benefit of a view over the Elkhart River to the south.
The new supermarket, which will face west toward Junior Achievement Drive and come closer to East Jackson Boulevard, is expected to open in the late spring or early summer of 2020, according to Amy McClellan, senior vice president of Martin’s Super Markets.
Until then, the store that opened in 1990 will remain open, she said.
The River Point West neighborhood apartments will be joined by nearby Flaherty & Collins Apartments and Portage Place apartments, which, along with the nearly finished Aquatics Center, are expected to bring in more people to the River District.
“I think the overall investment in the River District is one of the reasons why we’ve decided that this is a great opportunity for Martin’s,” McClellan said.
According to McClellan, every Martin’s gets its own personality based on its neighborhood and its customers, and the revitalization of the River District will mean changes for the local store.
Among them, the supermarket will shrink from 76,000 square feet to 42,000 square feet.
“But the great thing about that is that shoppers will not even notice how much smaller the store is, because we will offer everything we’re currently offering in the existing store, and then more. We’ve just gotten better at retail over the years,” McClellan said.
Other changes include the addition of Smokehouse Signature BBQ station, which has been popular at other locations, according to the SpartanNash chain. The store will also offer grilled-to-order pub burgers, a first for a Martin’s Super Market.
In front of the store will be a new town green that will be open to the public.
Upon completion of the new Martin’s, the existing store will be demolished to make room for the construction of apartments, said Brad Toothaker, managing partner of Great Lakes Capital, which is leading the development.
That will bring more than 170 units of different sizes, from studios to two-bedroom apartments, according to Toothaker.
The nearby Flaherty & Collins and Portage Place apartments have been criticized by some for providing housing for people with deep pockets while ignoring a need for affordable housing. And though a press release described the River Point West apartments as “high-end,” Toothaker said this project will be within reach of average wage-earners.
“We’re all about regular people. That’s what we’re building for,” he said. “We’ll be right in the middle and have affordable alternatives for everyone in the market.”
Toothaker said getting a new Martin’s was the main driver for the project, and he had high hopes for the new neighborhood.
“You’ll find that this is going to be a new town center, really, here for downtown Elkhart, for the heart of the community,” he said.
Although the second and third phases of the apartment construction cannot begin until the existing Martin’s is demolished around this time next year to make room, the first phase will begin in a couple of days, according to Toothaker.
That phase concerns the construction of apartments along Junior Achievement Drive.
“The apartments are critical to the success of retailers, services, amenities and all the things that will grow up in the River District,” he said.
The building that houses Martin’s is also home to stores such as Verizon and CVS Pharmacy. Those will have to find new locations, though there is a possibility that they could relocate to the 6,000 square feet of retail space that will be offered in one of the apartment buildings. The Starbucks that is operated as part of the Martin’s will continue to exist in the new store, according to McClellan.
Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese, who describes the project as an anchor in the River District revitalization effort, said keeping a grocery store in the area is “extremely important,” and what residents have asked for.
Not only will this and surrounding projects make the city a better place to live and run a business, he said, they are also creating many construction jobs. But bringing some of the thousands of people who commute to Elkhart to put down roots in the city is one of the main goals.
“We want to recruit or capture a lot of those people, so they don’t then leave the city and go to adjacent areas,” Neese said.
Creating that future does have downsides, according to McClellan. In the past few years, several sections of road in the River District have been closed at one time or another. For the section of East Jackson Boulevard that runs in front of Martin’s, that time is now.
The road closure means a 0.7-mile detour for drivers coming to the store from the east, according to Google Maps.
“That has been a challenge, trying to manage through that and keep customers happy when it’s hard to get to the store,” McClellan said. “But it’s all for a great cause, at the end of the day, so we’re just excited about the future and to get through the messy construction part for better things to come.”
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