New Retail Center Under Way in Macon, Ga.

Ground breaks on north Bibb County's The Shoppes at River Crossing


Sep. 13--The Shoppes at River Crossing, a massive retail and entertainment center being built on Riverside Drive at Interstate 75, is expected to be anchored by Belk and Dillard's department stores, the developer said Tuesday.

A rendering provided at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday shows a 200,000-square-foot Dillard's store near Wesleyan Drive and a 132,000-square-foot Belk store near Sheraton Drive in north Bibb County. Both stores currently have a presence at Macon Mall.

Only one of the department store chains confirmed Tuesday its plans to be part of the new retail center.

Julie Bull, director of investor relations for Little Rock, Ark.-based Dillard's, said late Tuesday that Dillard's would open a store in the new development. But she did not say what, if anything, would happen to the Dillard's store at Macon Mall.

"We are still working out the details," she said. "We make no announcement regarding Macon Mall."

The Belk corporate representative, however, said that though the company has been in discussions with the developer to locate at the new north Bibb shopping center, nothing is firm.

"We have not made a decision on The Shoppes at River Crossing at this point," said Steve Pernotto, vice president of human resources with Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk. "It doesn't mean we won't. We just haven't signed anything."

The proposed 750,000-square-foot regional shopping and entertainment center is a joint venture between Montgomery, Ala.-based Jim Wilson & Associates Inc. and Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc. Scheduled to open in spring 2008, the new shopping plaza will feature upscale specialty stores, restaurants and five mid-sized anchor stores in addition to the two large anchor stores. When completed, the center is expected to employ about 2,000 people.

Although representatives of Wilson or General Growth did not make a public announcement about Belk and Dillard's building on the site, both stores were listed as featured merchants on promotional materials provided at Tuesday's groundbreaking.

Woody Rush, senior vice president of leasing for Wilson, said it is common to show merchant names on the plan before an official announcement is made.

"Then they hold us at bay to really make the forward announcement even though it's pretty clear they are coming," Rush said. "At a later date they will say, 'We're OK with you to tell people we're coming.' "

CENTER WILL HELP LOCAL ECONOMY

Tuesday's ceremony was a little more elaborate than most. The developers hired a professional sand sculptor to design the center's logo in sand. A huge tent spanned cloth-covered tables with small vases of flowers. The event, attended by about 100 people, was catered by Satterfield's barbecue restaurant.

Jim Wilson Jr., whose company built Macon Mall 31 years ago, was the master of ceremonies.

"I am delighted to be back," he said.

General Growth's CEO John Bucksbaum said the shopping center, designed as an "open air-style" retail center, will be unique to Macon.

"We want this to be not just an addition to the community, but an expression of the community," Bucksbaum said. "The Shoppes at River Crossing will be an open air environment with the feel of a traditional main street."

Developers plan to create a village green with a lawn for children to play, in addition to fountains, flowers, extensive landscaping and sculptures, he said.

"This will be a central place for musical performances and community events," Bucksbaum said. "It's not only a place to shop. We really want to be the town center of Macon."

Local officials said the development will be a welcome addition to the economy.

"It will create jobs for Bibb County," said Bibb County Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop. "It will create a good tax base for Bibb County and bring in sales-tax revenues. It's good for Bibb County, it's good for Macon and it's good for the surrounding counties."

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