University Heights Plaza Getting Major Rehab

Nearly six years after an Almacs supermarket shut its doors for good, the University Heights shopping plaza is getting a facelift. Make that a complete makeover. Within weeks, the McDonald’s restaurant at North Main Street and Doyle Avenue is expected to be demolished. In its place – a bigger and brighter McDonald’s, with improved traffic line and a larger drive-through window. The Boston Market chicken restaurant, now attached to the row of storefronts, will emerge as a stand-alone restaurant. A BankBoston branch at the far end of the plaza will be razed. A new bank – expected to be a Sovereign branch – will be built as a stand alone facility in the parking lot. Existing tenants, such as a record store, liquor store and dry cleaners will remain. And the slowly deteriorating space once occupied by a Star market and then Almacs supermarket is getting new life. Bread & Circus, the upscale grocer that has been so successful at its location off Wayland Square, will open a second Providence store. It will anchor the University Heights plaza along with Staples, which will double in size. Kelly Coates, a vice president at Carpionato Properties, the developers of the project, confirmed that Bread & Circus has signed a lease agreement and will occupy 32,000 square feet of space. Bread & Circus is a division of the publicly traded Whole Foods Market of Austin, Texas, with 84 stores throughout the country. The University Heights store is expected to be its largest in New England. “They have signed a lease and it’s going to be bigger than the Almacs,” said Coates. The entire reconstruction of the plaza is expected to cost about $6.5 million. It should be completed within a year. “You can’t put new wine into an old bottle,” Coates said. “It’s all being knocked down – and it’s going up again.” Coates said that such a dramatic reconstruction is not necessarily common, but his company is convinced that the investment is worthwhile. “It is a tremendous location,” he said. “We really believe in it.” This past spring, Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson said he did not think Bread & Circus would be serving the Mount Hope section of the city, with its pricey specialty items. But he did support the overall reconstruction of the plaza. Bread & Circus will look to tap into the nearby College Hill neighborhoods that run off Benefit Street. It will also put the store less than a mile from downtown and very close to access ramps to Route 95. For Dick Razza, who has owned High Spirits Liquors at University Heights for nine years, the reconstruction is welcome, despite the cranes and debris. The old plaza needs new life, he said, though business at the liquor store has been good. To be honest, we haven’t stopped growing for the past nine years,” said Razza. “It’s a great mix of customers here. And it’s the right size shopping center. You can park your car anywhere and make the rounds.” Razza expects the finished product and new neighbors to do nothing but help business. If the Bread & Circus crowd wonders over for some high-priced wines, he’ll make sure they are in stock. Gerald Klein is banking on the reconstructed University Height plaza to be a success. In fact, the president and chief executive officer of the Framingham, Mass.-based Corners Picture Framing Superstores plans to open a store there during the first quarter of 2000. Corners currently has a store in Johnston and plans to open in North Attleboro next month. In addition to Providence, Klein said Corners will open a store in Warwick in the first quarter of 2000. “There’s a million people in that area and we can support a store for every 200,000 to 250,000 people,” he said.

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