Friday, January 13, 2012

The Worst Kept Secret

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, the Water Tower Place shopping center on the edge of Celebration, poised at Celebration Avenue and 192, had a grocery store called Goodings. It opened, stumbled along for a couple of months, then closed its doors for good. Sadly, it wasn't alone, as a whole parade of stores followed as victims of the poorly-planned commercial center. There was Planet Smoothie, a video store, multiple coffee shops and restaurants, an electronics store, a vitamin shop, a clothing boutique, and too many more to list.

Water Tower Place had several things working against it from Day One. First, its signs are nearly invisible from 192. Celebration doesn't have the population density to support the center on its own, yet the tourists who might bring their precious dollars never know it's there. Second, its design is insanely bad. The entrances are awkward, the buildings are arranged illogically, and a hunk of land, loosely known as a "park," was plopped down in the parking lot for no reason other than to further doom any chance of success.

A few businesses have managed to cling to life, among them two bank branches, Joe's Crab Shack, Chik-Fil-A, Mobil, and a Goodyear that recently converted to a Pep Boys. But overall, by starting a business in Water Tower, you were essentially conceding instant defeat. Ironically, stores like CVS and Starbucks thrive just across the street. I'm sure that has nothing to do with the fact that they're highly visible from 192, have easy entrances and exits, and huge eye-grabbing signs.

The game changed recently when one of the worst-kept secrets in Celebration leaked out. I heard about it early on, since I'm involved with the library and it required closure/moving of our little Celebration branch, which is located in Water Tower Place. Word was that a grocery store with a name beginning with the letter P was going to grab a massive hunk of space, including the former Goodings and the wing that contained the library. P...Publix...not hard to deduce.

Of course, there's a Publix just a few blocks away on the other side of 192, but who's to say it wouldn't move if Water Tower offered a sweeter deal? They don't own their current building, so moving would be inconvenient but possible. Employees I spoke to at the store when the rumors first gained steam acted like the new store was common knowledge

Speculation was rampant on The Front Porch, our community intranet. Dare we hope for a place to shop that wouldn't force us to leave The Bubble? Then, in October, someone dug up some interesting plans that pretty much confirmed the unspoken but widely known fact.

Now the Orlando Business Journal has picked up on our poorly kept secret. No one from Publix or Water Tower will confirm the information, but that's not really necessary anyway. If I had some big bucks to bet, I'd wager them on a grocery store finally returning to the derelict little shopping center. It's a good think for Celebration and also for the few remaining merchants, who might get some foot traffic to help them stay afloat. Of course, I'm banking on the fact that the Power of Publix will mean razing the pathetic little park, making some real driveways, and maybe even placing a sign among the huge, gaudy neon billboards proclaiming every other store and restaurant in the area other than those in Water Tower.

Will Publix break the Water Tower Curse, or will the curse claim Publix? We'll know in a year or two.

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