Kroger Co.: Harris Teeter acquisition could lead to new downtown Cincinnati store

WCPO exclusive from retail convention in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -  The Kroger Co.’s acquisition of Harris Teeter Stores Inc. could have a positive impact on downtown Cincinnati. One of the company’s top real estate executives told WCPO that the merger has sparked a renewed interest in urban-format grocery stores.

“It’s just the success they’ve had with their urban stores in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area,” said Terry Evans, vice president of real estate for the Cincinnati-based grocery chain, in an exclusive interview with WCPO at the International Council of Shopping Centers retail convention in Las Vegas. “It’s their ability to make it work that’s kind of given us some confidence.”

A Downtown grocery store is a long-coveted treasure for boosters of the city’s central business district. Evans said Kroger has studied several potential sites over the years but none could clear the retailer’s hurdle rate of generating a positive return on investment for shareholders.

“Harris Teeter has much more experience with urban opportunities than we do and we’re taking some learnings from them,” Evans said. Harris Teeter knows “where the best places are to operate these stores.”

WCPO business reporter Dan Monk is covering the global retail convention in Vegas this week. Follow him on Twitter

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The cost of available land and the need for underground or structured parking have been considered obstacles to a downtown Cincinnati store. But Evans said it may be possible for Kroger to partner with a developer and the city of Cincinnati to build a garage, a Kroger store and housing above the store.

Evans said no particular site is under review at this time and he stressed that Kroger is at least a year away from identifying a workable solution for downtown Cincinnati. But he added that a 50,000-square-foot Downtown store has some appeal to the company.

“The population of the downtowns are increasing whereas in the past when everybody was moving from downtown to the suburbs,” he said. “So, we need to serve that customer.”

Any new Downtown store would try to “capture the Over the Rhine population ... So the further south you got the less convenient you would make it,” he said.

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