Three new restaurants including the popular Apple Lane Farms are in the works along a major western corridor in and out of Decatur, and a convenience store is being rebuilt there, too.
It's activity city officials hope will spark more development in the struggling area.
Donnie Lane, owner of Apple Lane Farms, said he expects the Decatur site inside the Beltline along Gordon Terry Parkway to be open by the early spring. Gordon Terry Parkway is part of the same roadway that includes West Moulton Street.
He said the Tanner location of Apple Lane Farms on Alabama 20 will close with the construction of a highway overpass there.
“I’m leasing the present location, and it will be torn down for the highway project,” he said. “I am developing the 7½ acres near the Beltline and still preparing a site plan.”
He said he plans to open the restaurant and then develop and lease or sell one parcel of about 3 acres to another business. He expects the restaurant, which features sandwiches, stuffed potatoes, salads and desserts, to seat about 100 people and employ 25 to 30 people.
Across the street, Minnie Lee’s Soul Food restaurant is expected to open this week in the former McCollum’s Seafood.
Reyno Contreras, of Athens, said he will open his first restaurant in the former Church’s Fried Chicken location at 1214 W. Moulton St., most recently the home of Shark's chicken and fish restaurant. He said La Casa Del Rey Mexican Grill should be serving meals by mid-August.
Contreras, 40, has worked at Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurant on U.S. 72 in Athens for the past 17 years, most recently as manager. “It’s been my dream since I was a teenager to have my own restaurant,” said the native of Mexico City, who came to the United States in 2000.
He said he looked at properties in Madison, Florence and Decatur before settling on the West Moulton location. “The rent here isn’t bad,” he said. “There aren’t so many businesses here, and the traffic flow is really high.”
The restaurant will seat about 50 people and be open seven days a week, he said. He plans to apply for an on-premise liquor license so the restaurant can serve mixed drinks and draft beer.
He said his wife, daughter and brother and possibly two or three other employees will help operate the business.
“We’ll be serving real Mexican food, tacos, mariscos (seafood) and fajitas,” he said. “I will apply for a liquor license so we can have margaritas and draft beer.”
He said he is optimistic Decatur will grow because of the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant locating in nearby Limestone County and suppliers possibly locating in Morgan County.
“With Mazda Toyota coming, that will bring more people, and people have to eat,” he said.
Last year, a fire destroyed a convenience store at West Moulton Street and Old Moulton Road. Property owner Subbu Chivukula said he is rebuilding the Corner Express store and expects it to be open by late November. The foundation is expected to be poured this week, he said.
“We’re reconstructing the convenience store and deli and will be adding 10 washers and 10 dryers in a laundromat,” Chivukula said. “The people of the community don’t have anywhere to wash their clothes. Our deli will have cooks from the community and will make what the community wants. We’ll have barbecue on Fridays like we previously had.”
He said he also plans to put more beautification efforts into the store grounds.
He said Corner Express will employ about eight to 10 people when fully operational. He said the store will also sell gasoline and be open seven days a week.
Decatur Director of Development Wally Terry said the five-laning of a portion of West Moulton Street is partially responsible for the retail activity in the area.
“The road widening project that finished last year has played a role,” Terry said. “The traffic flow has been fluid going out to the Beltline. We passed a truck ordinance trying to limit 18-wheelers from using West Moulton except for deliveries.”
District 1 Councilman Billy Jackson said he’s excited about the retail development, but more city support is necessary to keep the growth rolling. He said the city should have five-laned farther down West Moulton Street.
“West Moulton is one of the major corridors coming into the city,” he said. “It has about 16,000 vehicles a day pass through there. We’ve got to look into state funding to help five-lane more of it. It’s long overdue. The city has wasted years of tax revenue by not doing it. West Moulton Street can be a good revenue source for our city.”
He said he is optimistic residents of the Seville subdivision along Old Moulton Road will support the new businesses.
“Seville is an absolutely wonderful project that has taken a negative situation in our neighborhood and became positive. That changes the entry way into the city and look of our community,” he said. “It has also been a key to us jump-starting redevelopment. It’s taken us almost 20 years to develop Seville. We need to keep moving forward. Obviously, a grocery store is a practical need that we have right now.”
Terry and Jackson said the nearly vacant Westgate Shopping Center on West Moulton continues to be a troublesome area for development.
“It would be great to put in a grocery store there,” Jackson said. “We had one several years ago. And many years ago, a Gibson’s discount store was there. … We’ve had some nibbles but the center is not necessarily appealing to some.”
Terry said the city is continuing to search for developers for the shopping center.
“I believe a grocery store locating there can do well,” he said. “The center needs some retail space to support the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Randy Campbell, owner of AAA Pawn Shop, one of two businesses operating in the Westgate Shopping Center, called the news of retail development along West Moulton Street “refreshing.” He said the center can house about 10 retail businesses.
“It’s hard to attract retail business over here because of the perception of the area because it’s Northwest Decatur,” he said. “Widening the road has helped some. The road is safer and looks good. A grocery store would be a big draw. Maybe another pharmacy and another restaurant will help some, too.”
Campbell said the Stock N Save grocery store in Westgate closed a few years ago.
“The small grocery store on Danville Road is the closest grocery store to this community. Some of the residents here don’t drive. They definitely need something closer,” he said.
Several real estate brokers have signs up along West Moulton Street offering lots for sale.
Tommy Joiner, a major landowner in Lawrence County, owns three lots along West Moulton Street including a recent purchase from the city in the 600 block from the city.
Joiner said he doesn’t have any immediate plans for his sites. He said a developer from the Atlanta area looked at the property earlier this year.
“He was pretty impressed with the traffic count on West Moulton,” he said. “I’d have to have it rezoned from residential to business to put something there, but I don’t have anything in mind in the short term.”
Realtor Morgan Jones is marketing a 212 First Ave. S.W. lot adjacent to West Moulton Street and just west of the CSX railroad tracks for $350,000, according to her website.
In recent weeks, a couple of houses along West Moulton Street have been demolished and offer development possibilities, Jackson said.