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January 9th, 2017

Buffalo News

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Amherst Whole Foods to feature bocce court, tap room

The new Whole Foods Market in Amherst, scheduled to open this summer, will offer shoppers more than just an array of fresh, frozen and prepared foods and a coffee bar.

It’ll have a bocce court and a tap room.

Detailed interior plans filed with the Amherst Building Department by the Austin, Texas-based company show designated areas for typical grocery amenities, including everything from a bakery to dairy to sushi and pizza. There are also seating areas for patrons to eat and meet.

In one of the more unique features for a grocery location, the designs by SBLM Architects of New York and Smith Hanes Studio of Atlanta show the store also will include a bocce ball court.

“We do a lot of fun stuff in our stores with different activities and restaurant venues,” said Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra. “We look for fun ways to create an experience inside of our stores in ways for our customers to participate.”

The tap room concept – a casual restaurant serving food and beer – has also become more popular and common around the country for Whole Foods, which has restaurant venues in more than 100 of its stores. That includes five of the 35 stores in the Northeast Region, Sinatra said.

A menu is still being developed.

“It’s always a different variety of food that we serve, but that’s pretty common,” Sinatra said. “A lot of our newer ones definitely have them.”

Whole Foods is waiting for town approval for building permits for the interior design of the 50,000-square-foot store. Meanwhile, work on the building itself has progressed toward a mid-year opening of the upscale grocer, as the gray outer shell of the building is mostly complete.

Built by Picone Construction Co., the $15 million store features two peaked roofs. Plans call for a facade of red brick and wood siding, with green gable roofs, a “living wall” of plants and the brand’s green lettering. New parking lot islands, landscaping and spaces are already largely installed.

The one-story building sits at the eastern end of Northtown Plaza at 3097 Sheridan Drive, on the site of a former two-story Bon-Ton department store, which was taken down to make way for the first Whole Foods location in Western New York.

That demolition was followed by environmental remediation under the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which the state Department of Environmental Conservation certified last month as complete. That means the redevelopment will also qualify for state tax credits.

Meanwhile, town officials say the owner of the 19-acre plaza, WS Development of Chestnut Hill, Mass., has continued to quietly shop around its overall proposal to redo the entire plaza, which was originally constructed starting in 1952 on farm land.

The Boston-area real estate firm, which often works with Whole Foods, bought the property in May 2014 from longtime owner Jonathan Luther. The rest of the plaza – which was dominated by small local stores and secondhand shops, as well as restaurants and other longtime businesses – never fit with the higher-income demographic that Whole Foods typically attracts. Some retail observers questioned the geographic choice for the grocer.

WS Development has largely kept its long-term plans for the rest of the plaza close to the vest. But it’s widely expected to include a complete overhaul of the property, with new buildings that will house more upscale national clothing stores, boutiques and other chains. That’s what was shown in an initial schematic that leaked two years ago, and WS officials have projected a total cost of as much as $75 million for the bigger project.

No site plans have been filed with the town yet, nor have WS officials held recent discussions with Amherst officials. Such a filing is expected within the next three months, said Amherst’s assistant planning director, Gary Black.

However, the developer has not renewed leases or has significantly raised rents where it could, forcing out many of the longtime tenants such as consignment stores, Carolina Furniture, three restaurants and, most recently, Riverside Men’s Shop, which will move to Transit Road.

In the meantime, Northtown Plaza is now largely vacant, with only a handful of storefronts still open and the parking lot mostly devoid of cars.

According to the state Department of Conservation, which oversaw the environmental cleanup, crews removed 1,883 tons of soil contaminated with tetrachloroethene, as well as two inactive underground storage tanks and 1,026 tons of related petroleum-contaminated soil from December 2015 through July 2016. Workers also installed two underground depressurization systems in two buildings to remove and prevent vapors from polluted soil from getting to indoor air.

By: Jonathan D. Epstein

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