Massive Retail Centers Planned for Prattville, Ala.

Jan. 22--PRATTVILLE -- More shopping choices are coming in a big way -- 1.3 million square feet of retail space -- and the city is putting out the welcome mat.

Two proposed shopping centers have public officials, especially the mayor, counting on carloads of out-of-towners, millions in revenue and thousands of new jobs to help this bedroom community of 28,000 come into its own.

Montgomery-based McClinton and Company plans a 900,000-square-foot, open-air lifestyle center north of the intersection of Cobbs Ford Road and Old Farm Lane. Bass Pro Shops will anchor the development, now called High Point Towne Centre, with a 100,000-square-foot-store.

Collette and Associates from Charlotte, N.C., will build a 400,000-square-foot shopping center across Cobbs Ford Road. Target could be a major tenant.

To put the projects in perspective, Prattville's Wal-Mart Supercenter contains about 200,000 square feet of space.

Mayor Jim Byard foresees the retailers, which will be close to Interstate 65, drawing customers from as far away as Selma, Greenville and Clanton.

"We are used to seeing Elmore and Montgomery county car tags in our store parking lots," he said. "But over the last three to five years, we have seen a marked increase in traffic from Dallas County, Chilton County, even Lowndes County."

Once open in mid-2007, the stores are expected to generate about $10 million a year in additional sales and property tax collections and business license fees, Byard said.

Chamber of Commerce figures show the new businesses will create about 1,300 jobs.

Prattville has borrowed $48 million to pay for incentives used to attract the retailers. The bond payment, about $3.8 million a year for 20 years, will come from the expected increase in tax revenue. After the bond is paid off, the city will see an additional $5.6 million in revenue. That money will help pay for city services, Byard said.

Until now, the largest economic development bond issue the city sold was in 1996, when it paid about $6 million to help build Capitol Hill, the Robert Trent Jones golf course.

About 100,000 rounds of golf are played at the course each year, with 85 percent of the golfers coming from outside the area.

"I didn't believe all the hype the city fed us about the golf course coming in, about how much it was going to change the city," said Jeff Hunter of Prattville. "But, boy, I sure was wrong. The golf course has been great for the city. I'm sure these new shopping centers will do just as well."

Along with Bass Pro and Target, names such as Parisian's, J.C. Penney Co., Home Depot, Best Buy, Books-A-Million, Dillards and Stein Mart have been mentioned as possible anchor stores. Byard refused to comment.

The shopping centers and golf course should complement one another, said Chuck Woodley, who came from Iowa to play with some friends at Capitol Hill.

"We got our wives to OK the golf trip because we promised them a few days on the Gulf Coast," he said. "It would have been a much easier sell if these shopping centers would have been operating. The ladies could have spent two days in the stores while we embarrassed ourselves on the links."

A reputation for being a friendly, safe town is a big draw for shoppers, said Courtney Bishop of Montgomery.

"My husband doesn't like me shopping by myself in Montgomery, but he doesn't worry about me when I come up here to Prattville," she said. "When Bass Pro opens, he might even ride up here with me."

But all the growth worries Barbara Kelly, a Prattville native.

"I'm kind of torn. I like having more shopping choices," she said. "But I don't want Prattville to get too big. I don't want us to become Montgomery. I don't want Prattville to ever act like a big city."

Byard chuckles when he hears comments like that. The days that his mother longs for, when everyone in town knew each other, are long gone, he said.

"We are going to have growth. The challenge is making sure we control that growth, and it is the type of growth we need," Byard said.

"A city is defined by its spirit, not its size. I don't think Prattville will ever lose that small-town outlook of neighbor looking out for neighbor."

(Montgomery Advertiser (AL) (KRT) -- 01/23/06)

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