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Whole Foods coming to Lafayette, at last

By tina Marie Macias
[email protected]

This time, the rumor is true. Whole Foods Market will open its first location in Lafayette late next year at the corner of Settler's Trace Boulevard and Ambassador Caffery Parkway. The nation's largest natural-foods grocer made the announcement during an earnings call Wednesday and put to rest years of speculation and debunked rumors about the Austin, Texas-based chain entering the Lafayette market.

The 36,200-square-foot store will be part of a new shopping center, Ambassador Crossing, and tentatively will open in September 2014, said Whole Foods spokeswoman Kristina Bradford, based out of New Orleans. "We will be the anchor store," Bradford said. "I don't know about other stores. They're in the process of working that out."
The shopping center probably will take shape on an undeveloped plat of land that has been owned by the Saloom family for generations. The family owns hundreds of acres of land in south Lafayette, including most of the commercial land that surrounds the Ambassador Caffery-Settler's Trace intersection.

The undeveloped 44.7-acre piece of prime real estate currently is listed as agricultural property and is valued at $27.2 million, according to the Lafayette
Parish Assessor's Office. It was unclear whether the family has leased or sold the land to the shopping center's developer, Houston-based Ainbinder.

A representative was unable to be reached for comment. Ainbinder currently operates Crossroads Annex, where Ulta and soon-to-be-constructed Petco sit next to Kohl's Department Store. "I'm very happy that Whole Foods is coming here," Lafayette Economic Development Authority CEO Gregg Gothreaux said. "Basically, for months they've been working with the city to iron out a location," Stories about the possibility that a Whole Foods would land in food-conscious Acadiana go
back at least to 2006.

A post on the Urban Planet website that year quoted a local media account as saying that Whole Foods was about to announced a new Lafayette location. In May 2011, City-Parish President Joey Durel announced that Whole Foods was moving into a then-vacant building --now Burlington Coat Factory --on Ambassador Caffery north of Johnston Street.The next day, the Whole Foods corporate office denied that it had immediate plans to put a store in Lafayette, although a spokeswoman said Whole Foods was open to the idea.

"I'm very well aware of the rumors in 2011," Bradford said with a laugh. "I'm very happy that we're finally going to be there." Whole Foods announced it will open 11 new locations Wednesday, including two in Louisiana - one in Lafayette
and another in New Orleans. The chain currently operates more than 340 stores nationwide and three Louisiana stores in
Baton Rouge, Metarie and New Orleans.

Whole Foods' specialties are organic and natural meats and poultry produced without growth hormones and antibiotics,
unprocessed cereals and grains, and other products marketed to promote healthy and organic eating. It probably will  become a tough competitor for Fresh Market, another specialty grocery in nearby River Ranch. Drug Emporium on Bertrand
Drive also features a large organic selection, but few stores around Lafayette cater to health food desires, where Adriens,
Champagne's, Albertsons, Winn Dixie, Rouses and Super 1 Foods dominate the market.

Whole Foods was one of the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune Magazine, but CEO John Mackey caused controversy last month when he called health care reform "fascist." Still, Whole Foods offers its workers some of the best  health benefits, which will not change under health care reform.

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