The announced Ikea store coming to Franklin Gateway in Marietta is officially still in the works, but may no longer be a sure thing.
The Swedish build-it-yourself furniture giant announced plans to build a 338,000-square-foot shopping center, the largest in Cobb County history, last December. But close to a year later, the proposed site remains a gated-off parking lot, and Ikea has not filed any building permits, the city confirmed.
In addition, Ikea canceled at least three proposed new locations in the U.S. this May, according to newspaper accounts from those areas. The cancelations were in Nashville; Glendale, Arizona and Cary, North Carolina.
According to Nashville paper The Tennessean, the company pulled out of that project because it wanted to focus on smaller stores closer to downtown centers and a greater online presence. The stories were similar in The Arizona Republic and Raleigh-based News & Observer.
“A spokeswoman said the company wasn't in a position to disclose whether other expansion projects will proceed or not, some of which are already under development,” The News & Observer reported in May.
Ikea’s press department failed to respond to the MDJ by press time.
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin said he has no reason to believe the Marietta Ikea will not open, but he wouldn’t go so far as to say he was 100 percent confident.
“I guess the 100 percent level will be when we see a permit, but I don’t think the economic desirability of this location has changed… we’re so far along now, to pull the plug now like in Nashville and Arizona, that won’t happen,” he said.
Marietta development services director Rusty Roth said it is not unusual for companies to file for building permits on their own schedule, and that the city’s engineers have been in contact with Ikea discussing the property.
The announcement was celebrated by the city, which touted the deal as the crown jewel in the revitalization of Franklin Gateway.
The council meeting where the developer was revealed featured a smorgasbord of foods, including a tray of Swedish meatballs, which are famously served in Ikea’s cafeterias. That meeting also served as a going away party for the council members who were not returning to office.
Speaking to the MDJ at the time, City Manager Bill Bruton characterized the development as almost too good to be true.
“I wouldn’t have thought they would have opened up one anywhere near the one they have in Atlanta, but the improvements that have been made on Franklin Gateway and all the new jobs that have been created ... it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations,” he said. “I think we all hoped we would get to this point, but I don’t think there were many people who would have thought we’d get here so quickly.”
The improvements to Franklin Gateway Bruton mentioned followed a $68 million redevelopment bond approved by voters in 2013 to spruce up what was then called Franklin Road.
That money allowed the city to buy up and raze blighted apartment complexes on the corridor. The city then sold those empty lots at a loss — for example, Marietta bought the Marquis Place Apartments and 28 acres of property for $17.7 million in 2015 and sold it to Ikea two years later for $9.25 million.
The idea was that developers would bring in new businesses that would help revitalize the area. The strategy has worked with other major developments, including the training center and headquarters for the Atlanta United Soccer Team, an IT center for Home Depot and a new Hampton Inn.
If Ikea joins that crowd, it will bring an estimated 300 jobs to the area. But when and if that happens is up to the store’s executives, Tumlin said.
“Ikea (is) looking at the much bigger picture than just one location,” he said. “When they commit and have their contract for pulling the permit, that will be that day, but right now, it’s subject to corporate headquarters to pull the trigger.”
When that day comes, Tumlin added with a laugh, he will make sure everyone knows about it.