CCDA director delves into Valley Chick-fil-A deal

Published 9:00 am Saturday, June 8, 2024

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WEST POINT — The Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA) recently landed one of its biggest ever retail targets with the decision of Chick-fil-A to locate on Highway 29 in Valley. CCDA Executive Director Chris Busby talked about how it all came about at Thursday’s noon-hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club.

With more than 3,000 restaurants in the U.S., Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Canada, Chick-fil-A is one of the most popular places to dine in North America. With such a huge demand for its food, Chick-fil-A is very selective in opening a limited number of restaurants each year. The company receives hundreds of requests every year on where customers would like to see new locations for a Chick-fil-A, its real estate team makes those selections based on corporate goals for expansion to specifically targeted markets and other relevant business factors.

The company’s commitment to locate across from Little Caesar’s in Valley is a big win for the local area and Chambers County. The official announcement was made late last week and is triggering interest on the part of other businesses looking to the local area as a prime place to locate. 

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“I have received more calls in the past few days than I have in years,” Busby said. “I am confident we will see more business being generated because of this. It will generate more traffic and more revenue that the City of Valley can put back into infrastructure. This project will benefit a wide area. It will help bring other businesses to the area.”

“I don’t know if we would have gotten as much attention as we have gotten from this if we had made an announcement of a new industry with 5,000 jobs,” he joked. “One of the most frequent questions I have gotten since I have been here is ‘When are we getting a Chick-fil-A?’ We can now tell anyone that one is on the way.”

Busby is quick to add that there’s no preference by the CCDA staff to recruit projects for any town in Chambers County. “We help people locate sites that are ideal for them with no preference for any given community, just as long as it’s in Chambers County,” he said.

Busby has been with the CCDA since 2015. Valerie Gray was the director at the time, and one of the top goals on the retail side was getting a Chick-fil-A to come here.

It appears to be a fast-track project. 

“The opening could be sooner than you might think,” he said. “An owner/operator for the new restaurant will be relocating here.”

There are many factors involved in site selection. There are environmental studies, soil testing, traffic studies and so on, all involving contractors and engineers. One of the biggest hurdles to clear was to get the final okay from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). There were lots of boxes to check to make sure access to the new restaurant would meet all ALDOT safety regulations.

Busby first met with Chick-fil-A’s tenant representative in 2018 and worked on developing a solid, professional relationship with him. 

“I told him we were like everyone else – we wanted a Chick-fil-A,” Busby said. “We weren’t on the radar at that time, but we kept working on it.”

Commercial development was hampered by the pandemic in 2020-21. Interest rates, inflation and real estate prices were on the way up. Even with this, Chick-fil-A was looking for new places to expand. 

“I was told they were looking for new locations,” Busby said.

The tenant representative contacted him while he was driving one day and told him they were interested in sites along Highway 29 between Lanett and Valley.

“They told me they were looking at five sites between Kroger in Lanett and Walmart in Valley,” Busby said. “I told him we’d work with him on it.”

When the call ended, Busby said he pulled the car over, had some fist pumps and said, “Yes!”

With the size of the land and the cost of the property being key factors, those five initial sites were narrowed to two by the fall of last year. Projects dimmed when some obstacles emerged with the most preferred site. It looked like a deal might fall through.

“We knew we had to hit the reset button,” Busby said.

Interest then picked up with the second site, located west of the four lanes between Terri’s Mill Village Cafe and Bradshaw-Chambers County Library. There’s been a vacant field there for years, causing many to wonder when something would be located on that site across from Valley Bowl. Now we all know. It’s going to be a Chick-fil-A.

This location did seem promising, but ALDOT had to support it before a deal could be finalized. 

“We worked on eight different plans with them,” Busby said. “We didn’t want to put up a traffic light there. Mayor Riley offered to widen the street at that location [33rd Street] and that seemed to help. After several weeks of discussions, ALDOT gave us their okay.”

Without that came another fist pump and another “Yes!”

“I sighed a deep breath of relief,” Busby said. “It would have been tough to be that close to a deal and it not work out.”

There still was the matter of having an agreement in written form. That took place on the Thursday before Memorial Day (May 23rd).

For a number of years now, the CCDA’s efforts to get a Chick-fil-A in Chambers County has gone by the code name of Project Saban, named of course for former Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Former director Valerie Gray thought it appropriate “because it’s a sure winner.”

Mayor Riley and other Auburn fans (Georgia fans, too) in the local area might not like that description, but it’s okay if it results in a good thing for Chambers County.

Busby said it has taken a long time and a good bit of wrangling to get to where we are now with Chick-fil-A but it’s been worth it. 

“It’s a good project,” he said. “It will be good for our local community.”

Chick-fil-A restaurants are good corporate citizens for the communities where they have restaurants. Through what’s known as the Chick-fil-A Shared Table program, local Chick-fil-A owners/operators fight food insecurity in their neighborhoods by donating surplus food from their local restaurants to local soup kitchens, shelters and nonprofits to feed those in need.

Founded by the late S. Truett Cathy in Hapeville, Georgia and today headquartered in nearby College Park, Georgia, Chick-fil-A has been a long-time supporter of Atlanta Christian College and now Point University.

Mr. Cathy died in 2014. The business is now owned by his children, Dan, Bubba and Trudy.


TALKING CHICK-FIL-A — Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA) Executive Director Chris Busby (at center) was the guest speaker at Thursday’s noon-hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. He talked about the recent announcement of a Chick-fil-A restaurant coming to Valley and what was involved in getting it to come here. At left is the club president, Daniel Meadows, and at right, Mason Bunn, the program chairman.