New Retail Project Starts in Prattville, Ala.

Jun. 22--PRATTVILLE -- In the shade of three pecan trees on the edge of an expanse of red clay, Prattville city officials and economic developers broke ground Wednesday on a 400,000-square-foot shopping center.

Towne Center will open next summer near Interstate 65 off Cobbs Ford Road. Anchored by a Target store, the 57-acre venture by North Carolina-based Collett and Associates is the latest in a string of big-box developments designed to attract shoppers in fast-growing Autauga and Elmore counties.

Many of the other retailers going into Towne Center -- Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ross Dress for Less, Pet- Smart, T.J. Maxx, Books-A-Million and Lane Bryant -- already have stores in Montgomery County. A Wachovia Bank, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Logan's Roadhouse also will set up shop, officials said.

"Montgomery is always going to be the economic engine of the River Region, and we won't take that spot," said Prattville Mayor Jim Byard. "We have a friendly competition when it comes to retail, but there is enough for us all to survive."

Just across Cobbs Ford Road, a Bass Pro Shops will anchor a 900,000-square-foot shopping center. Nearby Millbrook will be home to a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The developments are following the population shift in the tri-county area. New U.S. Census numbers released Wednesday explain why retailers are looking more and more to the north.

In the past six years, Millbrook grew 34 percent and Prattville grew 17 percent. On the other side of the river, Montgomery's population declined 0.8 percent, or by about 1,400 residents, since 2000.

"It's a pattern that started a long time ago. A lot of it has been at the expense of Montgomery County, with people migrating out," said Don Bogie of the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University Montgomery.

Still, according to Bogie, the tri-county area's primary retail base -- and most of the customers -- are in and around the Capital City.

Collett and Associates looked at Prattville three years ago but decided the city wasn't economically mature enough to handle a large-scale development, said Tom McMillan, a partner in the firm.

Now, McMillan said, "The demographics became such that it hit the retailer's radar."

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