A boarded-up grocery store in midtown Tucson will not be transformed into a desert oasis after all.
Cincinnati-based Kroger, which owns Fry’s grocery stores, has formally rejected a $2.1 million bid from the Tucson Botanical Gardens for the property it owns on the southeast corner of East Grant Road and North Alvernon Way.
The local nonprofit had drafted plans that, if the sale had gone through, would have allowed the landlocked gardens to substantially increase their footprint for the first time in decades. The gardens property, 2150 N. Alvernon Way, is just south of the Fry’s shopping center.
Officials with the grocery chain came to Tucson earlier Thursday to deliver the bad news, telling Michelle Conklin, the executive director of the gardens, the company accepted a bid for the closed store from another party.
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“We are, of course, disappointed,” Conklin said.
With the bad news still fresh in her mind, Conklin said she remains bullish on the future of the gardens.
While the midtown desert oasis has an active board and visitors crowd the gardens on the weekends, Conklin said she learned how many supporters it has when the gardens attempt to buy the property became well-known.
“The outpouring from the community was unbelievable on this. It brought to light how important the gardens is to people,” she said. “We were having dreams literally every day on what that building could be.”
With those dreams dashed — at least for now — she said the gardens will continue to expand.
Conklin said she would like to discuss future partnership opportunities with the new owner, although Fry’s officials did not disclose who the new owners would be.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said he was disappointed by the decision.
“Fry’s is closing stores all over town and is in the middle of a controversial development out by Saguaro National Monument. This is a huge miss on their part to be a real community partner,” he said.
The councilman also pledged to help the nonprofit expand.
“I’ll keep working with the gardens to see if the incoming tenant really needs all 55,000 square feet. We’re hoping there’s still a deal to be made to expand the gardens and truly enhance the area, even if Fry’s corporate doesn’t want to be a part of it,” he said.
Kroger officials, however, did not come to the meeting empty-handed. The company gave the gardens a $50,000 donation.
Pam Giannonatti, Fry’s corporate affairs manager, focused on the long-standing partnership the company has had with its now former neighbor.
“We ... truly appreciate what the Tucson Botanical Gardens represents and the value they bring to the Tucson community. We are proud to be a partner of theirs,” she said.
Giannonatti did not respond to the Star’s request for further comment.
The donation will be used to go back to the drawing board with new plans on how to expand. “Just because we can’t go north, doesn’t mean that we can’t be big,” Conklin said.
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson