Owner of former grocery seeks to ‘fulfill demand’|[07/17/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 17, 2008

The owner of a former supermarket undergoing a transformation into a medical mall said Wednesday he plans to “fulfill a demand” in Vicksburg.

Greg Mathis, a Houston developer and president of Citadel Realty Investments Inc., visited the city and said the aesthetics of the former Sack & Save on South Frontage Road will begin changing drastically in 60 to 90 days. Stone columns, lighted glass and a color scheme that “pops” are all elements Mathis has in the works.

“It’s only going to get better,” he said. “I’m really excited.”

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The former Sack & Save, built in the mid-1980s, has been an eyesore along South Frontage Road since it closed in 2005, when Winn-Dixie pulled the plug on the supermarket in a move to emerge from bankruptcy.

Mathis, who bought the building last spring, said he initially planned to fill the 60,000-square-foot space with retail. He said that changed when he was approached by a representative of Vicksburg physician Paul “Bill” Pierce.

“I was approached a few weeks before I closed (on the building). For a while, we thought we could do quasi-medical, quasi-retail,” Mathis said. “But, given Dr. Pierce’s following, it’s a demand I think we can fulfill. I’d rather just go that way.”

Pierce, an internist at Vicksburg Clinic for 33 years, began this week working in his new clinic, Medical Associates of Vicksburg, an 8,000-square-foot space in the west portion of the former supermarket. The clinic is being operated by Central Mississippi Medical Center, a Jackson hospital headed by Florida-based Health Management Associates. In addition to CMMC, HMA operates nine other hospitals in Mississippi and about eight clinics.

Pierce’s move, attributed to a decision to offer patients more medical choices, represents his departure from the area’s dominant provider, River Region Health System. It is also a significant step in what seems to be a changing medical landscape in Vicksburg. Other River Region physicians are expected to follow suit, although no official announcements have been made.

While other private medical clinics have entered the medical scene in recent years, it’s the first time a large competitor has offered such a wide-array of medical services in more than a decade. Pierce, who is joined by nurse practitioner Michelle Banks, is, in addition to standard medical services, offering 12 exam rooms; a laboratory; X-ray and bone density services; CT scans; a lounge area; and a large nurse’s station. Pierce, who sees about 360 patients each week, will continue his role with River Region Medical Center, the area’s only hospital, and will refer his patients there, as well as CMMC in Jackson.

A second phase, which will be another 8,000-square-feet to mirror Pierce’s clinic and share its waiting room, is planned to open as early as the fall. It is possible the space will offer a pharmacy, rehabilitative services and an office for DME, or durable medical equipment.

Mathis said he is working on lease agreements for up to 15 tenants. In addition to clinics, Mathis said ancillary, or related, services will fill the former supermarket.

“We’ll have medical sales groups, supply companies, things that will support this,” he said. “Dr. Pierce is such a legend. We’re so happy to have him.”

The developer, who recently completed a shopping center near Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, said he is “deal-driven,” which is what led to his purchase here. But, he’s been happy with the support he’s had from the community, he said.

“I really appreciate that pro-business mentality of (Mayor Laurence Leyens) brings forward,” Mathis said. “This will be something. I think we’re going to make it look really good and get this thing up and going.”

As part of his rehabilitation of the 6.8 acres where the building sits, he said he will remove the gas pumps that front the property and repave the parking lot. He will also place a pylon sign that will be visible from Interstate 20. While the property transformation brings with it a great deal of change, it’s not the first time a Vicksburg supermarket has been transformed into alternate space. In June 1996, Post Plaza became home to The Vicksburg Post, River 101.3 and a number of retail stores.