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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Monday he expects public and private developers to break ground on $4.8 billion worth of construction in 2013 - three times as much as last year - and said new construction will include an upscale grocer that's been edging into Massachusetts over the last three years.
"We're not done yet, folks: I'm pleased to announce today that the latest 'W' coming to Fenway is Wegman's,'' Menino said in an address to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-backed fiscal watchdog group. "It'll open up the Landmark Center and continue the progress in that neighborhood.''
Many questions are far from being answered: Where in the Landmark Center? When will it open? How big will it be? What will Wegmans do to make sure traffic and parking in the Fenway neighborhood, already horrendous day in and day out and gridlock-disaster in the hours around when the Red Sox have a home game, aren't made dramatically worse?
City Hall sources said they expect the Wegman's will be part of a redevelopment developer Steve Samuels has planned for the Fullerton Street side of the Landmark Center, an area now housing at-grade parking and parking decks, and would involve renovation and new construction that does not necessarily drive out current tenants including the century-old Blick Art Materials store.
Jo Natale, Wegmans' director of media relations, said in an email: "We are very interested in a site in the Fenway neighborhood. Discussions with the developer are underway, and we anticipate that an acceptable agreement can be reached in the near future."
The location Wegman is eyeing would epitomize a frenzied grocery-store derby now reshaping the eastern Massachusetts shopping landscape: It's one block away from a dowdy old concrete Shaw's Market on Boylston Street, and a five-minute walk from the former Brookline Foodmaster on Beacon Street that is one of six Foodmaster locations Whole Foods has taken over and is converting to new outlets of the upscale/natural/organic grocery chain. It's one front in a multi-front battle putting Wegmans versus Whole Foods versus Shaw's -- with Stop & Shop, Market Basket, Hannaford, Big Y, WalMart and others also jousting for Greater Boston market share, especially after Shaw's has just been sold earlier this month to new owners, Albertson's LLC, after years of financial struggles at heavily indebted prior owner Supervalu that led to hundreds of layoffs of New England Shaw's workers.
After opening its first Massachusetts store in Northborough three years ago to wide acclaim, Wegmans is now building two more stores in Burlington and Chestnut Hill (Newton) expected to open later this year and has plans underway for another store in Westwood. While it attracts a strong "foodie" following and is known for its wide array of ready-to-eat family meals popular with parents who work outside the home and don't want to have to cook, Wegmans competes at a range of price points including wholesale-club-type aisles.
As we talked to grocery shoppers in the Fenway neighborhood seeking reaction, "What's Wegmans?'' was a common reaction, with many people who aren't familiar with Wegmans upstate New York home base not recognizing the name. Some were concerned about how affordable the store would be for inner-city residents who use the Shaw's, but others said they'd welcome some competition for the tired-looking, drab supermarket.
"I think it's something that a lot of people are interested in,'' said Amanda Escamilla of Boston, who works in the neighborhood. "As somebody that cooks, and as a chef myself, I think that people are looking for convenient foods [that are] good, healthful, and nutritious.''
The Fenway location would also put a Wegmans within walking distance of thousands of students from Boston University, Emmanuel College, Simmons College, and Wheelock University, and along a popular walking route to MBTA Green Line -- and soon, Yawkey commuter rail -- service used by thousands of Longwood Medical Area workers.
Menino said in a city where development has come roaring back since the economic meltdown of 2008-09, a supermarket many consider a marquee destination is one more appreciated symbol of a booming Boston: "We have more jobs than ever before, more development than ever before, more young workers per capita than any other city in America.''
With videographer John E. Stuart.