FREMONT -- When the ceremonial dirt is flung at the Whole Foods Market groundbreaking Friday, local foodies and Fremont officials likely will cheer, though for different reasons.
The natural food store's imminent arrival in the city's Central/Downtown neighborhood grants a longtime wish to local fresh-food lovers but also places a retail linchpin in the 110-acre downtown envisioned by city planners.
"We're trying to create a strong sense of place downtown, and having unique retailers is one element that gives people a sense of pride, a place where they can come together," said Jessica von Borck, Fremont's downtown project manager. "We think Whole Foods will be an anchor and a regional draw."
The proposed downtown zone contains City Hall, the Fremont BART station and ambitious plans for new office space, retail, entertainment options and housing. Two projects already have started: a Sprouts Farmers Market opened in May, and 300 housing units are under construction between Walnut and Beacon avenues and Liberty and California streets, next to City Hall. That housing development is expected to be completed in September, said von Borck.
Next up is Whole Foods Market, which will be housed in a 39,000-square-foot building on a 3.75-acre site at the corner of Paseo Padre Parkway and Mowry Avenue. Another 13,000 square feet is being set aside there for other retail, which Fremont officials expect to fill quickly once the store opens.
The store will be the Texas-based chain's sixth location in the East Bay, joining Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Oakland, Berkeley and San Ramon. Its several South Bay locations include San Jose and Palo Alto.
For years, Tri-City-area residents have clamored for their own Whole Foods store. The upscale grocery chain sells meat and poultry free of growth hormones and antibiotics, unprocessed grains and cereals and other health food, according to its website.
Debbie Kueny, a longtime Fremont resident, said she is pleased that Whole Foods will be within a mile of Raley's and Trader Joe's -- her other food shopping options. "We need more organic food that's fresh and not processed," Kueny said. "It may cost a little more, but in the long run, it's good for you."
Avinal Maharaj, a Livermore resident who works near the Fremont store site, said he "definitely will shop there because it's a little higher class" than other markets. However, he said he is concerned that the store might be too popular for its own good, causing traffic congestion and a shortage of already-scarce parking spaces.
City officials say 246 spaces are set aside for the new Whole Foods.
"I haven't heard any negative comments," von Borck said. "All the feedback has been positive. I think that reflects the fact that a long-term need is being met."
The groundbreaking is at 2 p.m. Friday
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.