Leigha Edwards, one of the Oak Ridge representatives who attended a recent shopping center convention, gave an update on retail activity during a Tuesday morning networking meeting.
Edwards works for UT-Battelle, which manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and she is vice chair of the Chamber’s economic growth efforts, a press release said.
She recently attended RECon, held by the International Council of Shopping Centers, along with other representatives of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the City of Oak Ridge. In addition to Edwards, other representatives who attended were Melinda Hillman of Roane State Community College and chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors; Stephen Whitson of H-S Whitson; Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith; and Parker Hardy, president and chief executive officer of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
“The conversation at RECon about retail development in Oak Ridge has changed dramatically since the first year I attended in 2013,” Edwards said. “The fact that Crosland Southeast is purchasing the mall property changed things in a very positive way. Their reputation is such that it brought a great deal of credibility to the project and the city as a whole.
“By 2014, many retailers we met with had elevated their conversations to a higher level and it was no longer a matter of ‘if’ they wanted to be in Oak Ridge, but ‘where.’ Retailers were excited to be looking for locations in Oak Ridge, both as part of the Main Street project and in other areas across town, many of which have since opened their doors for business in Oak Ridge, including Bojangles, Dunkin Donuts, Jimmy John’s, and Jersey Mike’s.”
She continued: “Our most recent trip in May was a continuation of progress—we arranged and completed 18 face-to-face meetings with prospects over three days. This number includes Crosland Southeast but not the companies they are already in discussion with themselves.”
According to Edwards, of those 18 prospects, eight were restaurants, three were apparel, two were new shopping center developers, one was a residential developer, one was hospitality industry, two were personal services firms, and one was education-oriented. The status of those meetings is as follows: four have committed, have identified and control sites or building but have not publicly announced; four will come if suitable land or existing buildings can be found; eight are interested but have not decided for certain; and two were not interested at all.
“Before my first trip in 2013, others who have attended RECon in the past told me there was a lot of walking and to be sure I wore good shoes,” Edwards said. “This is possibly the understatement of the year. We averaged between 20,000-25,000 steps per day, which is at least 10-12 miles. It’s definitely function over fashion when it comes to footwear. Steve Whitson, who has made this trek for six years running, says he knows RECon is near when spring rolls around and he has a new pair of shoes to break in before hitting the ground in Vegas.”
Edwards closed out her remarks by saying: “At the end of three days, we had walked the soles off our shoes, eaten enough free-sample sub sandwiches, burritos, frozen yogurt, and hot pretzels for the entire population of Oak Ridge. But, we had also worked very hard on the behalf of the community to continue the revitalization of retail in our town.”
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