Panera headed downtown

Published 11:39 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plans are moving forward to give the old health department site on North Main Street a makeover, and it’s starting with a well-known artisan bread chain.

Panera Bread is the first announced lessee that will have a location at 1217 N. Main St., Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes revealed in an Economic Development Authority meeting Wednesday.

He also said a furniture company and two cell phone companies had signed leases, but he said he could not yet identify them.

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The impressive thing, Hughes said, is that the building still is at least two months away from even beginning construction.

“To be almost 70 percent pre-leased before the site plan is even approved is pretty successful in this market,” Hughes told the authority members.

The redevelopment of the site, which will begin with demolishing the old Health Department building, has been delayed while city officials worked out issues involving zoning and other technical items.

When preparing the site, officials found out what they originally thought was one site was actually split into two or three parcels, Hughes said. After receiving one approval on zoning, they also discovered that another part of the site was still zoned for conservation. City officials have begun the process to rezone that parcel to match the rest of the property, Hughes said.

The city also is working with the owners of adjacent property to be able to connect to the Suffolk Specialty Shops strip that includes Tropical Smoothie Café and Firehouse Subs.

“We have a lot of legal arrangements to work out,” Hughes said.

He anticipates construction beginning on the site in March or April, he added.