New Shopping Center to Begin Construction near Burlington, N.C.

Dec. 15--Any news on Alamance Crossing these days seems to be about delays and holdups, but the developer of the county's largest shopping center says that's all about to change.

Jon Meshel of CBL and Associates said that his company will start construction of the shopping center in the next 30 days and that, by the end of January, a list of tenants will emerge.

"I'm not just blowing smoke for you," Meshel said this week. "I think it will get more interesting. There will be real news to go along with (the construction)." The Tennessee-based developer has submitted a 128-page engineering plan for review by the city, which could pave the way for construction on the 146-acre site to begin. City planner Daniel Shoffner said the city's Technical Review Committee would be discussing the engineering report this week.

The development, which was approved by the Burlington City Council in early 2004 as Burlington Marketplace, will sit on a triangular wedge between St. Mark's Church Road, Garden Road and Interstate 85/40.

CBL officials have likened the project to Streets at Southpoint, a popular outdoor pedestrian mall in Durham. The first stores are expected to open in August 2007.

The project has been split into two sections, Alamance East and Alamance West. The latest plans submitted to the city are for the Alamance East section, which is expected to open first.

The news of potential activity at the shopping center site is good news not only for residents waiting for news of the next major retailers that will come to Alamance County, but also for the chains themselves.

Bob Fields, a Florida real estate broker and site consultant for Darden Restaurants Inc., said his client has been "trying to find out where everything is" relating to the Alamance Crossing project.

DARDEN RESTAURANTS INC., the world's largest casual dining restaurant company based in Orlando, Fla., owns and operates nearly 1,400 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill and Seasons 52 restaurants in North America.

Fields said that he started looking at the property for Darden Restaurants early this year and has yet to see final approved plans for the project. He said that his client has not looked elsewhere in the city to build its restaurants.

In an e-mail from Fields to the city of Burlington's planning department dated Dec. 5, the company is interested in building two of its featured businesses -- Olive Garden and Red Lobster -- at the shopping center.

The e-mail contained a site plan showing the restaurants on two of the outparcels fronting University Drive. The plans also show a CVS Pharmacy at the corner of University Drive and the future four-lane road through the new development.

"This is what we would propose if we came in," Fields said. "This is not a definite deal. This is just a feeler to see what's going on up there. Everything right now is way too preliminary for my clients." Darden Restaurants did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

(Times-News (Burlington, NC) (KRT) -- 12/16/05)