Natural Foods Merchandiser

Wild Oats Wins Backyard Battle

Wild Oats Markets Inc. has aced Whole Foods Market Inc. out of a plum development site in Boulder, Colo., where it plans to build a flagship store as well as its corporate headquarters.

On Wednesday, Wild Oats and Westcor, developer of the Twenty Ninth Street mixed-use project, announced the signing of a letter of intent to build "at least 35,000 square feet" of retail space and an 80,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in a prime location in Boulder.

City officials had lobbied hard to keep Wild Oats' headquarters and 275 employees in Boulder, where it was founded in 1987.

"Westcor told us it was very competitive," said Wild Oats spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele. "We're just happy we won."

Tracey Gotsis, senior vice president for development marketing at Westcor, said the developer talked to "virtually every grocery chain" about the Twenty Ninth Street site. "Specialty grocery does really well in Boulder," she said.

The project sits on 65 acres occupied by the empty husk of a now-defunct mall within walking distance of the University of Colorado campus. Westcor envisions a combination of retail, office space, restaurants and entertainment, Gotsis said, focusing on "first-to-market, unique retailers."

Boulder real estate watchers said Whole Foods wanted the Twenty Ninth Street site to replace its existing store three blocks away, which, despite parking problems, is one of the top-grossing stores in the chain. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods did not comment, based on a policy of not speaking to trade media.

But industry watchers may recall that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey sent Mike Gilliland, his counterpart at Wild Oats, a copy of the board game Risk ("The Board Game of World Domination") when Colorado's first Whole Foods opened in Boulder in 1998. The 39,313-square-foot store was the largest in the chain at that time and a stone's throw from Wild Oats headquarters.

Wild Oats employees viewed the Twenty Ninth Street announcement as a major victory, Tuitele said. "It's a testament to how far we've come in the last three years under [Chief Executive] Perry Odak's leadership."

Westcor, the Phoenix-based development division of The Macerich Co. of Santa Monica, Calif., will submit its site plan July 7 to the city of Boulder.

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