New Retail Center Under Way in Macon, Ga.

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.' "


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."

Mayor Jack Ellis said it was no accident Bibb County was chosen for the project.

"You know that we are a growing and thriving community," he said, directing his comments to the developers. "You know that we are the center of a very vibrant area in the state and in Middle Georgia."

Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, said the shopping center will have the quality that people seek.

"It just helps to continue to build our presence as a regional hub for that type of activity, which is an excellent position for Bibb County and Macon to be in," Cherry said.


The midstate will attract plenty of customers to existing and proposed retail centers in Bibb County, the developer and other local officials said.

"I will tell you this: If I had more land I could fill it up," said Will Wilson, executive vice president of development for Jim Wilson & Associates Inc. "There's that much pent-up demand."

Several other developments, including a Bass Pro Shops outdoor retail store, are in various stages of development in north Bibb County.

"Bass Pro Shops helps a whole lot," said Rush, with the Jim Wilson group. "The more you draw to the region, the better. I think there is going to be good success here, and success brings more retail and more development. ... I wish we had even more property."

Jodi Dague, regional vice president of Prime Retail, which owns Macon Mall, said the company had not heard anything about Belk's and Dillard's plans. She said it wouldn't be unheard of for anchor stores at the mall to be in more than one location in the area.

"I think that the more retail in the area the better. It creates more synergy ... more excitement for retail offerings in the local area," she said. "I'm really excited about (plans for the new shopping center). I think it would give Macon more draw."