Athens is preparing to welcome several prominent national retail stores in the coming years.

The Athens City Council received an update from John Ruzic at Monday’s study session. Ruzic is the city’s portfolio director representing Retail Strategies — a firm contracted by the city to help facilitate retail development.

Ruzic confirmed that leases have been signed by discount grocery store Aldi, discount clothing retailers Ross and Marshalls, and discount specialty retailer Five Below.

Plaza Electronics has moved from its previous location in Belk Plaza on Decatur Pike to the building formerly occupied by Staples on Congress Parkway.

“Aldi has officially signed a lease with the center (Belk Plaza) and will open here alongside Belk,” said Ruzic, who expected Aldi to be open within two years.

The planned Athens Marketplace retail center being developed on Dennis Street has also received three commitments, according to Ruzic.

“It’s currently out for bid for construction contracts right now,” he said of the retail center. “(The developers) have got leases signed for Marshalls, Ross and Five Below.”

With these businesses committed, the developers, with assistance from Retail Strategies, are negotiating with national pet supply, shoe and health and beauty retailers.

“Right now, they’re pretty far along with the larger space, so what they’ve asked for us to do is shift our attention to the smaller shop space,” said Ruzic.

The Athens Marketplace project has experienced delays due primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ruzic.

“That’s been one of those that’s been in the hopper for a long, long time and glad to see it taking a couple of steps forward,” he said. “COVID really killed this project off for about a year and we’re seeing it kind of come back to life now.”

City Manager C. Seth Sumner added that financing for the project was difficult to obtain during the pandemic.

“What happened in the market that caught this one was the financing for retail construction disappeared in the banking industry — it just paused during COVID — and just in the last few months has opened back up,” said Sumner.

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