Hy-Vee planning larger store on Roberts Dairy site in Iowa City

If approved, construction to start in Summer 2013

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Hy-Vee has big plans for the former Roberts Dairy plant that closed in July 2011 on North Dodge Street in Iowa City.

Iowa's largest grocery chain wants to demolish the plant to make way for a new 50,000-square-foot supermarket to replace the existing 34,000-square-foot market at it operates nearby at 1201 N. Dodge St. It also wants to build a Hy-Vee convenience mart on the 8.21 acre site, which includes some parcels that were not owned by Roberts Dairy.

The plans for the site at 1109 and 1123 North Dodge St. are on the agenda for Wednesday's Iowa City Board of Adjustment meeting, where Hy-Vee will be asking for special exceptions for two drive-up facilities. One is a pharmacy and grocery drive-through attached to the main grocery building. The other is a quick-service coffee window for the coffee shop that will be in the 4,500-square-foot convenience store building.

Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer said the plans are for an expanded neighborhood-sized Hy-Vee store. The company's new large format store are around 90,000 square feet.

Comer said the plans are contingent on several zoning and regulatory approvals from the city, none of which are expected to be very controversial.

One of the approvals will be for the relocation the St. Clements Street right of way that serves as access for nine homes north of the dairy property. The right of way is currently without curbs or markings, and indistinguishable from the rest of the pavement in the dairy's truck staging area.

Comer said the proposed store is a larger version of its neighborhood store format, which will allow for a Hy-Vee Health Market and Wine and Spirits section, and an enlarged prepared foods department.

The 4,500-square-foot convenience store will be the largest addition. It will include a coffee shop with 1,300 square feet of floor area.

If approvals are received for the project, Comer said Hy-Vee would likely start construction in early summer 2013 and place the store in service during 2014.

Hy-Vee is leasing its current building, Comer said, and will work with the building's owner to find another tenant.

Comer said a specific cost estimate for the new store was not available, but similar stores typically cost $14 to $15 million including real estate, furnishings, equipment and inventory.

Hy-Vee has operated its current North Dodge Street store since Feb. 26, 1980. The location was a combination Hy-Vee grocery store and Drug Town store, but Hy-Vee expanded into the Drug Town space after Drug Town relocated in 1999.

The 77-year-old dairy was being operated as a joint venture between Prairie Farms Dairy of Carlinville, Ill. and Dairy Farms of America, which is owned by dairy farmers, before the closing in July 2011. Prairie Farms Dairy indicated at that time that the facility would remain open with fewer employees as a distribution facility for its products.

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