June 2 – ATHENS – The transformation of a Kmart that closed five years ago into a newly built mall will hit a major milestone this summer with the opening of a 48,387 square foot Publix, which has already begun to hire.
The new MidTown Center on US 31 will have an additional 11,200 square feet for other retailers or businesses, but the developer did not disclose any potential tenants. The mall will be accessible from Pryor and Hobbs streets as well as US 31.
Publix hasn’t announced the opening date for what will be its second store in Athens, but city engineer Michael Griffin said, “It looks like it’s going to take at least a month, or three or four weeks. … But very soon. It looks like this summer.”
Griffin said construction is nearing completion. “They’re 95% wholesale. It’s just dealing with people safety issues.”
Nicole Maristany Krauss, Publix’s media relations manager for Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, said they estimate their total number of associates will be around 140.
“Publix hosted two hiring events in Athens, and we’ve hired about 70 associates so far who are training in the surrounding area,” Krauss said.
The city’s existing Publix is located on US 72.
“Our current location has been extremely successful, so we look forward to serving our customers and our Athens community in a secondary location,” said Krauss.
Griffin said the Kmart building on the site sat vacant for three or four years after it closed in 2017.
Athens city planner Matt Davidson said the old building was demolished around February or March 2021 so construction could begin for the center.
William Ming of Ming Commercial Real Estate Group is the developer of MidTown Centre. He said they were “finalizing a few tenants” and preferred not to comment on the development yet.
Griffin recently conducted a site inspection and the city’s building department issued a temporary occupancy (CO) certificate so businesses can bring employees into the buildings to store goods and undergo training.
“When they’re fully done with everything required with the building department, fire department, and engineering department, they receive a final CO that allows them to operate as a business,” Griffin said.
The center is opposite the Athens College. A traffic light was installed on US 31 near the school and the new center.
“The main reason we got it was for school traffic,” Griffin said. “It will actually give them an authorized left, so it’s a matter of safety for our school buses and our kids leaving schools. It kind of worked that Publix was just going there.”
Currently, the traffic light is going through a seven-day introductory period where it simply flashes yellow to alert drivers to the new light. Griffin said it will become fully operational next week.
—[email protected] or 256-340-2460.