GAINESVILLE — The guessing game is over.
After months of rumor and speculation, Walmart announced Thursday morning that it will be moving into both the Lanier Plaza and Lanier Commons shopping centers.
Walmart plans to open its grocery Neighborhood Market stores, a smaller version of the mega-box retailer, at the two locations in early 2015.
Glen Wilkins, Walmart’s director of public affairs and government relations, said in a statement that the stores “give our customers quick and easy access to a wide variety of affordable products.”
According to Wilkins, those include “fresh produce, a full grocery department with a bakery and deli, a drive-through pharmacy with our popular $4 generic prescriptions, health and beauty supplies, select household items, plus a gas station.”
Plans to build a new 42,000-square-foot grocery store and an accompanying 12-pump fueling station at Lanier Plaza, located along Thompson Bridge Road, proved controversial in recent months.
Residents of neighborhoods near the shopping center turned out at Gainesville City Council meetings to voice their opposition to the redevelopment.
They even held protests and worked with business owners there to fight the project.
Quality-of-life issues, such as traffic and environmental impact, the eviction of small businesses in the shopping center and the prospect of declining property values, were among the many concerns raised.
Ultimately, the council approved a rezoning needed for the redevelopment to proceed.
Just what company would operate the grocery store remained a source of speculation. And representatives from Polestar, a Tennessee-based developer, stayed mum on the question throughout the fight.
But some residents made no effort to hide their objection to the rumored prospect that it could be Walmart.
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the redevelopment of Lanier Plaza was not repeated when similar plans surfaced to renovate Lanier Commons at the intersection of Browns Bridge and McEver roads.
Demolition of a portion of the shopping center that once housed a Food Lion made way for another 42,000-square-foot grocery store and pharmacy, plus a 12-pump fueling station.
Because just part of the shopping center is being redeveloped, the Family Dollar, a Mexican restaurant and a deli will remain in business.
An Asian restaurant, Farmers Insurance office and Freedom Tax Service were forced to vacate.
These two projects mark Polestar’s first foray into business in Gainesville.
“On behalf of the city, I would like to welcome these stores to our community,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said in a statement. “At 41,000 square feet, these stores on Thompson Bridge Road and Browns Bridge Road will provide almost 200 additional jobs for our community, generate additional tax revenue and stimulate new investment in the surrounding area.”