In the Know: Updates on new Aldi grocers, Great Wolf Lodge and Founders Square's growing lineup of businesses and restaurants
Reader Sharon Fay, along with other area residents, has been wanting status reports on the various Aldi establishments scheduled for Southwest Florida. And darn it, we're going to do just that.
Adjacent to a Walmart, the Estero location, which to the casual observer looks ready to go except for some touch ups, has been among the hottest questions.
"Why is this Aldi not opening up?" Olinka Blevins asked, echoing Cindi Murphy and Aleesha Muller. "No activity around it. Is it ever going to open?"
"Can’t wait for the grand opening already," added Elena Darii.
So let's begin to sort this one out and then provide the latest on others in the region.
We're going to be able to explain the holdup a little through other sourcing even if Aldi didn't want to go there. But Chris Hewitt, Aldi's Royal Palm Beach division vice president, at least acknowledged he's getting closer to rolling out the welcome mat.
"We are planning to open our first Aldi store in Estero, located at 19951 S. Tamiami Trail, this fall," Hewitt told me, as he also went into a few particulars. "Each store, including our upcoming, new Estero store, will employ about 15 to 20 people. We are also actively hiring for the Estero store. To learn more about working at ALDI and search current job openings, go to careers.aldi.us. Like all ALDI stores, the upcoming Estero store will offer about 12,000 square feet of retail space and only five aisles, making it simpler and easier to navigate than traditional supermarkets."
What's causing the Aldi delay?
Autumn, which as we all know is already in full swing, was as specific as Hewitt would get. But watchful reader John Jaffee came across some rumblings regarding the "stagnated" completion and alerted me. It appears the issues center on an unresolved easement question for an access lane, and the drainage isn’t done yet.
So for confirmation, I checked with the always mighty helpful Walter McCarthy, Estero's building review manager. McCarthy was out of the office on the particular afternoon I reached out to him, but he got back to me anyway. Now, that's a public servant. Thank you, Big Mac.
"You are correct with respect to the reasons for the delay," McCarthy said, appropriately giving me all the deserved credit and not John Jaffee. That's right, Jaffman. I've learned from reading 3:30 a.m. tweets that it's all about me, J-Dog, not you, not anybody else. Only I can solve your problems. It is what it is. Just kidding, Double J. Keep up the good work and keep on tipping.
So then, being the pesky columnist, I bugged McCarthy some more. Are these setbacks typical?
"These things happen," McCarthy said, "but the delay seems lengthy in this case. I cannot estimate the opening date."
Another new aspect we found out about this Aldi is that it plans to offer a grocery curbside pickup service the chain has been quietly testing in a few spots. These two locations are also on the "click-and-collect" playbook: 4015 Santa Barbara Blvd., Naples; and 11281 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. Go to shop.aldi.us to register.
Some other Aldi locations for Southwest Florida
So while Estero is slated to be in operation by the end of the year, the rest of the following are among many in the works for 2021, and the list seems to grow by the week and month:
► 8951 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs. Renovations were slated to start any day now in the old Beall's. It hadn't when I checked earlier in the week, but let me know.
► "Construction is underway at the new ALDI store located at 5591 Six Mile Commercial Court in Fort Myers, and we are on track to open the new store in early 2021," Hewitt said.
► For those already stuck in eastbound traffic on Colonial Boulevard, past Winkler Avenue, a bigger Aldi, at 21,988 square feet, is going up. "We are excited to confirm that construction is underway at 4560 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers, and the new store is expected to open in 2021," Hewitt said.
►Venice is also about to get its first location next year, according to Matt Thon, Haines City division vice president for Aldi. That U.S. 41 building also looks ready to inhabit in the oddly narrow-looking Jacaranda Plaza squeezed between Shamrock Boulevard and Center Road.
How does Aldi compare?
All these efforts are part of Aldi's ambitious expansion aim to become the third largest U.S. grocery retailer in terms of sites by the end of 2022.
Here's how it lined up with other competitors going into this year, according to specialty trade publication, foodindustry.com.
1. Walmart. Grocery Sales: $288 billion from 4,253 stores. Adding in Sam's, puts total grocery revenues in 2019 at more than $514 billion or 56% of overall sales.
2. Kroger. $121 billion from 2,759 that also include brands such as Harris Teeter.
3. Albertsons: About $61 billion from 2,323 including Safeway. Local history alert: Long gone from the state, Southwest Florida’s first, and initially only for several years at Colonial Boulevard and U.S. 41, helped extend the Fort Myers retail district past the Edison Mall and in all of 55,000 square feet of magical glory as Skaggs-Albertsons, began debuting new concepts like 24-hour shopping, a combo food-drug large-scale enterprise and an adjacent branded liquor entrance on April 14, 1976, the same week Dr. Hook's terribly inappropriate Only Sixteen reached No. 6 on the music charts. It’s also where an impressionable tiny tyke learned more of rock and roll in the massive market's record store section and received instruction from a well-meaning mama to quickly put back the unearthed vintage & question-inducing Sticky Fingers album cover by the Rolling Stones that featured a working zipper. The "talk" by the Catholic parent safely averted once again for another day in the future.
4. Ahold Delhaize USA: More than $44 billion from 1,963 that include Food Lion and Stop & Shop banners.
5. Aldi: Estimated $15 billion from 1,800 or so spots.
6. Publix: $36 billion in revenues at 1,236 venues including 805 in Florida and now stretching as far north as Virginia's 15.
What's coming to Founders Square?
Reader Paul Haddad reached out regarding Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road in Naples:
"Love your column. Can you share what businesses are planned for this area?"
The buzz from readers surrounding what merchants might land in The Pointe at Founders Square almost feels like the electric time in sports when teams are drafting or signing recruits and free agents.
Barron Collier Companies and Metro Commercial Development Group have their first batch of signees for the 40,000-square-foot dining, retail and services plaza under construction on the southeast corner of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard.
Unless you chew your nails, you'll probably be able to figure out which one of their newbies is not a restaurant: Fuji Sushi, Luxury Nails & Spa, Palumbo’s Pizzeria, Skillets and South Street Grill.
“These restaurants are locally owned and operated, giving our patrons authentic culinary experiences befitting Southwest Florida,” said Eric Mallory, Metro's executive vice president, who added that several additional leases are in "advanced negotiations."
That puts The Pointe at more than 50% leased, with anticipated completion in summer 2021. The goal for the mix includes fitness, fashion, beauty, health, dessert and, of course, more restaurants for the remaining 1,400- to 6,000-square-feet blocks.
The 55-acre Founders Square will be home to an apartment community, a 35,000-square-foot regional medical office building, a 110,000-square-foot self-storage facility and other businesses.
Among those considering The Pointe is bubbly Brazilian-born Breno Donatti and his eclectic coffee shops that are brewing their way into scattered locations in Manhattan and beyond from the founding place of Connecticut.
With a target open date of middle to late 2021, the energetic entrepreneur has been scouting several spots in the region for his Winfield Street Coffee that's also been known for some Italian street food and a drive-thru.
"People are so welcoming, and it makes me more excited to open in Naples as soon as possible," Donatti said. "I have read many articles in your column. Hope to be there some day."
You'll probably be hearing more soon from my colleagues about Donatti and his world-touring opera singer wife, Jeanette Vecchione-Donatti.
Don't cry wolf
It doesn't mean that one is coming here, but the Collier County Commission approved a feasibility study this past week to look at the Great Wolf Lodge and amusement center we first told you about earlier this month.
Leaders want to make sure it would make sense as a $250 million attraction adjacent to the Paradise Coast Sports Complex off Collier Boulevard and I-75.
Because a company objective calls for asking for various government incentives, the county wants to examine the costs and benefits it might expect so it's paying Hunden Strategic Partners about $40,000 to find out.
“Let’s see what we’re really doing here before we make a commitment," Commissioner Penny Taylor said. “I’m glad we’re studying this. I think it’s critical. We’re talking about a significant amount of money going back to Great Wolf. We’ve got to figure this out and figure it out with time and understanding. A lot of numbers are being written here.”
Employing about 375 people, Great Wolf would generate about $1.2 million a year in property tax, up to $5 million a year in sales tax and as much as $3 million a year in room tax, according to a county staff report.
There are 19 Great Wolf Lodge resorts in North America. The nearest, just outside of Atlanta, represents Georgia's second most visited resort, casino or hotel, based on a Hunden preliminary study. Sea Island Resort is first annually.
The Collier version on 20 acres would include a 550-room hotel, an outdoor pool and the massive indoor waterslide park that is the Great Wolf centerpiece.
Commissioner Andy Solis expects more projects tied to the sports park like Great Wolf.
"These things are going to come up, and we’re going to have to make decisions quickly. That at least we would have gone through this process already and understand kind of the parameters of what kinds of things can we and can’t we do in terms of the return on the investment, and what’s the right thing to do. I think it will at least give us a base line to start with,” Solis said. “Any developer of any kind that comes in to do something around the sports park is going to ask us for incentives and things. I think it would be helpful for me to see this analysis."
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.