Kroger has bigger plans for Franklin

If you’ve ever circled the parking lot at the Franklin Kroger store looking for a space — any space — you will understand: the grocer says it needs bigger digs.

Not just more parking, but a bigger store, three times bigger in fact. The new Kroger, to be built behind Bob Evans on U.S. 31 in Franklin, also could sell home goods, clothing and have a coffee shop or full buffett.

The grocery store has been at U.S. 31 and Westview Drive for decades. But traffic on nearby roads has greatly increased, the small parking lot is often jammed to capacity and the store is swamped with shoppers on weekends, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

So the company plans to upsize in Franklin and will bring the first Kroger Marketplace to Johnson County. The larger Marketplace stores offer other items or shops inside, such as home goods, clothing, jewelry, coffee shops or restaurants, along with the groceries people are used to finding at Kroger, McGuinness said. The larger location will compete with similar big-box stores such as the existing Walmart and a new Meijer, which is also planned for U.S. 31 at Commerce Drive.

The new 124,000-square-foot Kroger store will be built in a vacant space off Mallory Parkway and U.S. 31, surrounded by Canary Creek Cinemas to the west, Kohl’s to the south, and behind Bob Evans and the Canary Creek Shoppes strip mall. The company will buy all of the available 22 acres of land, but plans to divide it in half and put the new store on the southern half of the lot, McGuinness said. The northern portion will remain open for another development.

Kroger will move out of its current store when the new building is complete, which will creating another large commercial vacancy. The former Marsh store in Franklin has been empty since the company closed it in January 2014 and the former Marsh near Smith Valley Road in Greenwood also has been vacant for years.

Despite the empty space Kroger will leave, its new investment in Franklin is significantly larger and will provide more variety for shoppers, McGuinness said.

“It’s another unique opportunity for our community and Kroger is going to add a lot of options,” McGuinness said. “It’s a huge store.”

Representatives from Kroger could not be reached Tuesday afternoon. 

Kroger has been expanding in central Indiana recently, including launching plans earlier this month for a new store at Smokey Row Road and State Road 135 in the Center Grove area. Kroger is also constructing a new location just north of County Line Road off Emerson Avenue, and will move from its nearby location in a shopping center.

In Franklin, the current store is limited by its size and location, especially with the amount of shoppers there every day, McGuinness said. On the busiest days, shoppers going to Kroger often have to park five or six aisles away from the area in front of the store, he said. Traffic on Westview Drive makes it difficult for people to safely turn in and out of the store. City officials and police have previously called the U.S. 31 and Westview Drive intersection the most dangerous in the city due to the high number of accidents, and Kroger draws a large amount of that local traffic daily.

Kroger is planning to redraw the property lines for the 22-acre lot, so the company will need to get approval from several city boards before it’s cleared for construction. McGuinness expects those approvals could be done by the end of April. Construction on the new store will take months to complete, so the store likely won’t be open in 2015, he said.

McGuinness has wanted a grocery store on the east side to serve residents living closer to the interstate, who now have to travel 3 or 4 miles. While a store would be convenient for those residents, the differences in traffic are pulling grocery stores to U.S. 31, McGuinness said.

About 50,000 vehicles use Interstate 65 at Franklin daily, compared to 30,000 vehicles on U.S. 31. But the traffic on U.S. 31 are local residents who live or work in Franklin or nearby communities. A grocery store isn’t a destination that people are likely to pull off the interstate for, so the local corridor has the advantage, McGuinness said.

“It’s a center of attraction, it’s high traffic. A lot of car counts drive by the potential store and most of that traffic is local. When you do vehicle studies and car counts out by the interstate, not all of those are local traffic,” McGuinness said.

The city also will have to wait for someone to fill the empty store once Kroger moves to its new location. Those large commercial spaces have proven difficult to fill after a grocery store or big-box store closes because they’re typically too big for a single business to fill, unless it’s another big-box store.

McGuinness expressed his concern about the large vacancy with Kroger and the company said it will work with the strip mall owner to try to find a new tenant for the site.

“They’re going to work with (the landlord) on what’s the resolution for this building. Is there another box store that’s interested? Do you break it off into three or four different storefronts? Are they interested in selling that portion of the building?” McGuinness said.