A 76,000 square foot, concept grocery store will anchor the retail center at the latest incarnation of Aquia Towne Center.

The once bustling 200,000-square foot shopping center was razed in 2007. The land sat dormant until this year, and now 256 apartments are now coming up out of the ground on about half of the 25-acre property.

Stafford County leaders and Aquia Harbour residents gathered at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to celebrate the start of a commercial portion of the town center revitalization with a ceremonial moving of dirt from the ground into a dump truck. It’s the next phase of the town centers’ redevelopment, and the retail portion of the project represents a $40 million investment into the community.

The new commercial center will be developed by Maryland-based Mosaic Realty Partners, the same company that purchased nearby Brafferton Shopping Center on Route 610 last year. It will sit across from the new apartment complex being developed by Virginia Beach-based Franklin Johnston Group.

The grocery store will anchor the retail development.

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“We’re not yet ready to announce the name of the grocer just yet… we are at the two-yard line in the deal,” said Eron Sodie, with Mosaic Realty Partners. “All I can tell you is that the supermarket chain in based in North Carolina, and you can figure it out from there.”

That left the crowd of over 100 people who came to the earth moving ceremony speculating that the store could be Harris Teeter.

“We need a Harris Teeter in Stafford,” said Wendy Mauer, of Stafford, who’s also running for a seat on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.

Sodie said Aquia Towne Center is the “most important project in their portfolio right now.” The firm has also developed properties in Washington, D.C., suburban Maryland, and outside Baltimore.

Stafford Aquia District Supervisor Paul Milde said he won a seat on the Board of Supervisors 10 years ago by campaigning on the revitalization of the old Aquia Town Center.

“…I promised I would do something with this mall, and I haven’t done it fast enough… this changes all that,” said Milde. “It’s finally happening.”

Plans for the new grocery store show it occupying an area where a Regal Cinema movie theater sits today. New buildings will be built around the grocery store.

A multi-floor building that houses offices for Booz Allen Hamilton, and a Subway restaurant will remain. It is owned by Ramco-Gershon Properties, a developer that once owned the center and had big plans for its redevelopment prior to the recession.

It sold a half of the property to Mosaic and half to Franklin Johnston.

“It’s almost like saying a bad word when you mention Ramco-Gershon around here,” quipped Milde.

Jim Bowen owns a Best Western hotel at Aquia Town Center, on the corner of Routes 1 and 610. Visual renderings Ramco-Gershon had drawn for their version of Aquia Town Center looked more impressive.

“The development was going to be big, expansive, and expensive,” said Bowen, a Stafford resident since 1962. “It was going to have glass walkways, and it had condos on top of retail shops.

This development is a scaled down version of what could have been, he said.

Mick Lay owns “Micks Restaurant and Sports Lounge,” and he hopes new residents in the 256 apartments become regulars at his place.

“It’s going to be good for business to have them here,” he said.

Mosaic continues to shop around for new restaurants to fill their new town center, which will have a total footprint of 160,000 square feet. Founding partner Isaac Pretter was not dropping names of businesses Tuesday, but he did say he is courting well-known local restaurant brands that “would do well in Stafford.”

“Some of the close-in to D.C. restaurants, we’ve talked to our broker and they’ve told us they might work as well here,” said Pretter. “Whatever we bring here we want it to be successful.”

The new retail center is slated to open in 2017.

by Uriah Kiser, www.potomaclocal.com