The news we’re hearing from a number of different people in the commercial real estate realm is that Tom Thumb is seriously looking at building a new store in the Lake Highlands Town Center.
When we talked to the Town Center developer, Prescott Realty, a couple of years ago, we were told that Sprouts was very interested in opening a grocery store at the site. The most recent information we received from Sprouts is that the grocer is, indeed, interested, but not committed. The general size of a Sprouts store, usually 25,000 to 35,000 square feet, would fit well within Prescott’s original plan for a 25,000-square-foot grocery store near the southeast corner of Walnut Hill and Skillman.
When we heard Tom Thumb was interested, it surprised us, partly because Tom Thumb’s typical store is much bigger than the space allotted for a grocery store in the Town Center site design, and partly because Tom Thumb already has two stores nearby — one at Skillman and Abrams, and one at Skillman and Royal in Royal Highlands Plaza. But our sources tell us that Tom Thumb would likely close both of those stores if it opens a Town Center store.
The Skillman-Abrams Tom Thumb is a 78,000-square-foot store, and the Skillman-Royal Tom Thumb is 52,000 square feet. If Tom Thumb does close those two stores and open a store at Town Center, it would be surprising if the store it opens is smaller than either of those stores. “I wouldn’t imagine them going down much more,” says Ethan Slavin, director of leasing for JAH Realty, which owns Royal Highlands Plaza. Slavin told us that he is “hearing the same rumors” about Tom Thumb closing its stores and consolidating at the Town Center, but adds, “We’ll probably be the last to know.” (The leasing agent for the Skillman-Abrams Tom Thumb, Marcia Minton, declined to comment, referring all questions to Tom Thumb. Our other commercial real estate sources also requested that we call Tom Thumb and the developer instead of quoting them. Both Prescott Realty and Tom Thumb were contacted for comment; Prescott says it “doesn’t have any comments or updates at this time”, and we’ll keep you updated if we receive a response from Tom Thumb.)
One of the questions for us was whether a large Tom Thumb would require the Town Center to go back to the city and renegotiate its Planned Development. David Cossum, Dallas’ assistant director of sustainable development and construction, tells us that no, Prescott wouldn’t need another public hearing zoning process to build an 80,000-square-foot or so Tom Thumb. The Planned Development allows the Town Center a certain amount of non-residential square footage for four different quadrants of the project; the quadrant that contains the grocery store design is capped at 300,000 non-residential square feet. So Prescott could build a much larger grocery store than originally planned “as long as they could comply with the build-to regulations and any other requirements with TIF [Tax Increment Funding],” Cossum says. However, he says, “obviously, it’s not what was envisioned as a walkable development.”
We called Councilman Jerry Allen to ask whether TIF financing guidelines would keep a large Tom Thumb from being built at the Town Center, and he told us the Skillman TIF requirements “wouldn’t affect any plans like that.” Allen added: “Our whole objective on the Town Center is making sure it is a success, and we, quite frankly, have been working with Prescott to make sure that happens.”
What is likely another major factor in Tom Thumb’s decision — or any grocery store’s, for that matter — is yesterday’s wet-dry election. Now that Dallas has voted wet, and grocery stores will be allowed to sell wine and beer, the Town Center site will look more attractive. If Dallas had voted to remain dry in areas, it might not have made sense for Tom Thumb to build a store at Town Center, a dry area before the election. (Its Skillman-Abrams store is in a wet area; the Royal Highlands Plaza Tom Thumb is in a dry area.) A wet Town Center pretty much “opens the floodgates”, as Scott Wynne says in our October cover story.