BY SARAH STEPHENS, OWNER/EDITOR
For the last several months, Millbrook City officials have been in talks with a Taco Bell franchise about locating a store near I-65 in between Jack’s and Main Street Urgent Care. The talks were kept close to the vest, which is understandable. Twice the city was extremely close to having a Taco Bell under another franchise owner, and twice the plans fell through just days before the deal was signed and sealed.
The first instance was about four years ago, on a location close to the new planned location.
That plan fell through when the property went into bankruptcy. Later, talks began again but two days before the end of due diligence, the former franchise owner for this area backed out.
It was at that time that the city penned a letter to Corporate officials at Taco Bell asking for guidance on how to get a store locally.
From there, officials learned that the former franchise owner for this area was bought out by another group which holds well over 300 Taco Bell locations across the country. They are so big, Millbrook Mayor Al Kelley said, that they have their own engineering division because they build so many.
“This time, it is serious,” Mayor Kelley said. “This has been such a long process, with a lot of disappointment along the way. One of the biggest hot buttons in recent memory is the desire for a Taco Bell in Millbrook. Tonight we have fantastic news that site plans are approved. The schedule is that construction will begin in February.”
Tim Minor is the Site Designer for Tacala Inc., LLC, the new franchise owner for this area. He said that weather always plays a factor, but area residents can expect an open and operational Taco Bell between Jack’s and Main Street Urgent Care within 90 to 120 days from breaking ground.
He thanked city officials for working with the company, and said they are excited about the Millbrook location.
This particular store will be somewhat unique. It will be 2,700 square feet, on 1.3 acres of land, with 28 parking spaces, a drive-thru and an outdoor, covered patio area with fans in the summer and heaters for colder months.
To envision that area now, understand it is going to look a whole lot different in the months to come. If you start at Circle K (formerly Entec) and pan right you have Jack’s. The next 60 feet across was purchased by the City of Millbrook last year and is planned for future development for a road when necessary. Keep in mind that 60-plus acres behind Circle K were annexed into the city and is prime for future development. That 60 feet owned by the city could be developed as an entrance into any development in the future.
Moving right, there is a sold sign on a piece of property purchased by Popeye’s, for future development.
“Popeye’s has their own timeline for that property, as does Burger king further down the road,” Mayor Kelley said. “But both properties have been sold and the future plan is to build those restaurants.”
The next plot of land is where Taco Bell will locate and next to that is Main Street Urgent Care.
Millbrook City Engineer Stuart Peters is in talks with the Alabama Department of Transportation, as a traffic signal will be necessary for that location as well as other road work.
“This has just been a long time coming, and I know that Tacala Inc. does so many of these stores, they may not understand how important it is to a city like Millbrook,” Mayor Kelley said. “But I want them to know that this is huge and will jump start further development I believe.”
Council members approved the site plan as presented, giving the green light for development Tuesday night.
Council members and department heads praised the diligence and leadership of Mayor Kelley, Economic Development Director Ann Harper, City Engineer Stuart Peters and multiple members of the staff who have continued to work through the process.
“I just think this is a great thing, and it shows the vision, the leadership and the fact that all of us are on the same page for the betterment of Millbrook,” said Councilwoman Olivia Venable. “This is such an exciting time for our city.”
As for the location of the Taco Bell, Mayor Kelley said it actually makes perfect sense in the big picture. No doubt, it would be a great sales tax generator even if only locals visited. However, he said to consider the proximity to I-65, the number of travelers on the interstate, and the convenience of pulling off at that Millbrook exit and have a multitude of choices for dining.
“We are just very excited,” Mayor Kelley said. “A day doesn’t go by without someone asking one of us about Taco Bell. Of course, they ask us for a lot of other restaurants, as well.”
This is where education is important, as many people don’t always understand the process. As a city, officials can’t just snap their fingers and say “Here is your (insert whatever),” Kelley said. It takes entrepreneurs or franchises to want to locate to the city. From there the city can offer incentives, such as tax rebates, but in the end, competition is huge among restaurants and new businesses among all cities.
The city has Economic Development Director Ann Harper, who works daily to reach out to potential businesses. They also hired a consulting team a couple of years ago with strong contacts. There have been big hints that Taco Bell is just the most recent announcement, and that more are very possible in short order.
“I wish this process was easy, but it is not,” Kelley said. “But there is no question Millbrook is growing, people are moving here and raising their families here. We still maintain something of a small-town atmosphere which appeals to a lot of people. But we are a far cry from when I grew up here, and Millbrook was basically a bus stop. We have come so far, so fast.”
As for Taco Bell agreements and site plans approved, Kelley said he is over the moon.
“I know I will be there on opening day for Taco Bell, and I promise you I will be smiling,” Mayor Kelley said. “I expect cars to be parked everywhere and down Hwy. 14 on opening day.”