Many who live in Breckenridge avoid evening trips to its grocery stores, which are infamous for crowded aisles and backed-up checkout lines. It's become a fact of life for residents and visitors.
Based on discussions at the Jan. 9 meeting, however, town council members might be ready to finally do something about it. The town is now crafting guidelines for a potential study following discussions on whether a new store could thrive on an 127-acre parcel of town-owned land in northern Breckenridge known as the McCain property.
"I find the existing condition of our grocery store to be not even coming close to handling the current state of our town," said Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe. "We don't even have to start talking about the future growth, workforce housing that we're building and things like that. It can't handle what we currently have here, and I think it's reaching a level where that basic service is not being adequately met by the current conditions. The next question is what can we do about it?"
Breckenridge has only a handful of grocery stores in town, including City Market, Breckenridge Market and Food Kingdom. Much of the discussion earlier this month was focused on City Market, the biggest and most-trafficked store in town.
Wolfe suggested that if local grocery store owners are unwilling to work with the town, there's little choice but to start exploring other options. The town is a long way from moving any dirt, but at the very least, some elected officials feel like commissioning a feasibility study could put existing grocery store owners on notice.
"Maybe this is precisely what they need, a kick in the butt that says, 'Get your store from 40,000 to 60,000 (square feet), build those pad sites across the way that have been sitting empty for years, move some of your retail over there and make your grocery store the right size,'" Councilman Mike Dudick said. "Nothing is happening to make that thing bigger today. Nothing."
Breckenridge planning director Peter Grosshuesch told council they would need roughly 120,000 square feet of additional retail space to support a 60,000-square-foot grocery store, which together would take up about 10 to 15 acres.
Because a development like this would also need easy access and high visibility, it would likely require using one of the better sites on the McCain property to make it work, Grosshuesch said. He pointed to possible locations at Coyne Valley and Highway 9 or somewhere around the Fairview Roundabout a little farther south on the McCain property.
He said there's likely the market to support more options for grocery shopping in Breckenridge, but he wasn't sure if the market could handle the additional retail space that would probably have to come with it. Town staff would also like to better understand how such a development would impact existing retailers, he said.
Breckenridge town manager Rick Holman told council that he and Grosshuesch had approached Dick Bauder, who owns the 7.6-acre parcel where City Market is located, a week before the meeting about town council's push for a better grocery store.
"What was his reaction?" Councilman Mark Burke asked.
"Obviously, he's concerned," Holman said, explaining that Bauder had reservations given a previous joint effort with the town to expand City Market that ultimately fell through.
"If I'm speaking for Dick and what he expressed to us," Holman said, "is some frustration in that we, as a town, haven't kept lines of communication open with him."
Attempts to reach Bauder through his attorney were unsuccessful. The Breckenridge City Market falls under the larger Kroger brand. Kroger also owns the King Soopers and Fry's chains, among others.
Holman said the town engaged in a shared-cost expansion study with City Market that went on for six months in 2015. During that time, when the town expressed interest in getting a new store instead, the expansion was put on hold.
"What Dick told us was that that project was ready to go, the expansion, and then they started hearing about this new store concept," Grosshuesch said. "At that point, I think that's when the wheels came off inside Kroger."
EXPANSION OR NEW STORE
Based on his discussions with Bauder, Holman said the Breckenridge City Market is due for a large-scale remodel. However, it wouldn't involve an expansion. Kroger stores typically undergo a "facelift" every six to eight years and City Market hasn't had one in more than 10 years, Holman said.
Bauder was unable to attend the meeting, his longtime attorney Kent Willis said, and instead sent Willis.
"They specifically instructed me not to say anything," Willis told council after introducing himself toward the end of its discussions. "I only want to address one thing. … Dick wants to talk with the town; he wants to work with the town. He is not trying to be a brick wall … he is very interested in trying to work things out and trying to address your needs and concerns."
THE NEXT STEP
While five out of six council members expressed support for a study specific to a grocery store on the McCain property, Jeffrey Bergeron said he would have to be "seduced" to go along with the plan.
"I feel the pain," he said. "I shop at City Market, too. I just don't know if the town is in that business of putting pressure on existing businesses."
Mayor Eric Mamula was flatly opposed to the idea.
Mamula said the idea of carving out 120,000 square feet of additional retail space for a 60,000 square-foot grocery store on town-owned property is a nonstarter.
"I am less than lukewarm," he said. "I'm probably less hot on this than Jeffrey is. I do not think that, in any situation, we build 180,000 square feet on McCain. I am dead set against it to the point I don't even want to study it. I have no desire to build a strip mall on the edge of this community."
Other council members cited the issue of Breckenridge losing business to Frisco's grocery stores.
Still, the mayor said he didn't think that was a good enough reason "to ruin the entry to our community," and he called the additional retail space "a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom."
"You better start planning another huge affordable housing complex somewhere, and then you're going to need another grocery store for that," Mamula said.
But Wolfe and Burke stood firm.
"I hear you, Eric, loud and clear," Wolfe said, "but I really have to disagree with a lot of what you said, and I am not willing to have this get kicked to the curb."
At the end of the discussion, Holman asked the council members if they wanted staff to have another sit-down with Bauder, and they all said, "Yes."