City may have to throw money into sinkhole at Oxford Commons
by Eddie Burkhalter
OXFORD - A sinkhole is delaying construction at the Oxford Commons retail complex, according to a city official, but a new Publix grocery there is expected to open soon anyway.

The sinkhole, located several hundred feet from the Publix site, was discovered in late Novemeber, said Oxford councilman Mike Henderson. Construction of several of the retail, restaurant and business outlets to be located in the outlet will be delayed until the sinkhole is repaired, Henderson said.

Brenda Reid, spokeswoman for Publix, said that she is not aware of any construction problems at the site, and that work on the store is moving along as expected.

“We don’t have a firm opening date yet, but we hope to get it open by the end of February,” Reid said.

Oxford’s Commercial Development Authority – a board that uses city money, borrowed money and funds from the sale of city property to help entice the development of commercial properties – may have to help pay to repair the sinkhole, Henderson said, but just how much is not clear.

“The CDA may have to inject some more money into the project,” Henderson said by phone Friday, adding that he did not yet know how much the repair will cost.

WR Oxford, the company developing the retail complex, may also share in some of that cost, Henderson said.

The matter is to be brought before the council during the regular meeting at 6 p.m. today. A resolution listed on the agenda for today's meeting states the developer is asking the city for more money for the Oxford Commons project.

Attempts Monday to reach Mayor Leon Smith and Eric Brewer with WR Oxford for comment were unsuccessful. When contacted Friday, two members of the CDA declined to comment on the sinkhole, referring questions to board chairman Dwight Rice. Attempts to reach Rice on Monday were also unsuccessful.

Fred Denney, Oxford's city project manager, confirmed Friday that there was a sinkhole at the site, but said that the project is now in the hands of the developer. Denney said that he is unaware of the details of how the city will deal with the sinkhole, or with the cost for its repair.

Another sinkhole was discovered in 2009 at the site of a proposed Sam's Club, not far from the Publix location. The CDA agreed in 2009 to pay $350,000 to reimburse Sams' Club, which owns that property, for the cost of repairing that sinkhole.

"They've been talking about what they're going to do and how they're going to do it," Denney said of the newly discovered sinkhole. "But it's not a project I've got anything do with."

The Oxford City Council in September 2011 approved a $7.49 million bond for prep work at Oxford Commons. That money, funneled through the CDA, paid for sewer and water line installation, and for grading and paving at the site.

This latest delays at the retail outlet come after previous holdups in October pushed back the Publix construction several months. The developer had planned to complete the Publix in fall 2012, but Brewer told the Star in October that bad weather and construction supply problems slowed the project. Brewer said then that his company’s target was a winter opening.

The retail complex is located at Exit 188 on Interstate 20, across from the Oxford Exchange, and once complete, will include several retail and restaurant outlets. The only business to officially announce it will open at the site is the bakery chain Panera Bread.

Both the Oxford Commons retail complex and Oxford's multi-million-dollar sports complex project are located on different portions of historic Davis Farm, where many Indian artifacts have been found in the last several decades.

Work at both locations has been stalled at different times as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Alabama Historic Preservation Commission and the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma came to agreements with developers and the city on how to deal with the discovery of any human remains or Indian artifacts. Workers did uncover human remains at the sports complex site in February 2010, which halted the project for more than a year.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

© 2013