Note: This story was last updated at 1:51 p.m.
RealtyLink, a South Carolina real estate development firm, will replace Crosland Southeast as the master developer of the 60-acre Main Street town center project in Oak Ridge, the property owners said Monday.
RealtyLink is based in Greenville, South Carolina.
“RealtyLink first showed interest in the project as early as 2012,” said Steve Arnsdorff, the chief manager for Oak Ridge City Center LLC, the current owners of the property. “We are delighted that they have had continuing interest and are now able to assume the position of the previous developer.”
RealtyLink currently has nearly two million square feet of space in various stages of development including The River Landing, a 16-acre retail project on Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville. In addition to Greenville, South Carolina, RealtyLink has offices in Charleston, South Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Oak Ridge officials met with the new developers last week. Mayor Warren Gooch took the opportunity to welcome RealtyLink while expressing to them the critical importance of project to the community and the expectation that the project will continue on schedule, a press release said. Main Street would redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall, which is now known as the Oak Ridge City Center.
“RealtyLink has shown the ability to develop projects of this size and attract a wide assortment of national retailers,” Gooch said. “Their project portfolio is extensive. The Coastal North Town Center in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is particularly impressive.”
Neil Wilson, a principal with RealtyLink, indicated that his firm intends to move forward quickly with the same plan and same tenant mix as had been previously proposed, according to the press release.
“We continue to be committed to the community and to the tenants with the goal being completing the first phase in time for the Christmas season 2016,” Wilson said. “We look forward to working with the community in an effort to develop a truly great town center for the city.”
In a phone interview Monday, Oak Ridge retail consultant Ray Evans said city officials first met with RealtyLink about three years ago when the company was one of four to five potential buyers of Oak Ridge City Center.
City officials first met Crosland Southeast in about November 2012, and that North Carolina firm has had the property under contract since early 2013.
“The long and short of it is that we have a new developer to step forward with the same plan, the same tenants, and the same timetable,” Evans said. “My understanding is that they intend to build the same product that Crosland intended to build with the same tenant mix.”
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the project is still on track. In a meeting on Thursday, he explained the city’s interest in the project and its concerns, and the new developer had good responses, Watson said.
He said the city has been pleased with the Crosland design, and RealtyLink will “pick that up” and proceed with it.
“They’ve kind of assured us that they just want to change the saddle with Crosland, take the project from here, and cross the finish line,” Watson said. “I think we’re moving ahead with the same type of product.”
He said these types of changes occur as projects move forward and get close to construction.
“I’m glad it occurred now as opposed to later,” Watson said.
City officials said there shouldn’t be any significant changes required in the approvals already granted to the project by Oak Ridge, Anderson County, and the Industrial Development Board.
“This project is ready to move forward,” Watson said. “Unless there is some kind of substantial change, we are in good shape.”
As proposed, Main Street Oak Ridge would redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall in a $80 million project that could include a mix of retail, restaurants, and residential units, possibly including a hotel. The vacant enclosed space between the two remaining anchors, JCPenney and Belk, would be demolished, although those two stores would remain.
Watson said RealtyLink has many of the same customers and clients, and possibly a few additional ones, as Crosland.
Besides Oak Ridge City Center LLC, RealtyLink is the fourth development firm that has publicly expressed an interest in participating in a mall redevelopment, or at least considered the possibility, in the past decade. Others have included CORE Properties of North Carolina, GBT Realty of Nashville, and Crosland Southeast, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Crosland Southeast, which has said it has a niche in redeveloping so-called “dead malls,” is no longer the master developer. The company had been praised by current and former city staff members and officials. If anyone could accomplish the redevelopment, they said, it was Crosland Southeast.
The redevelopment firm had announced a series of steps this year, including pre-demolition activities and bid reviews, and roughly $500,000 worth of pledges from six local employers to help cover public infrastructure costs.
In March, Crosland Southeast announced it had signed the first anchor store lease. In May, they announced that Atlanta-based MDC development group, through its affiliated company Canterfield Hotel Group LLC, will build a new 120-room hotel at the site.
The company has spent significant time on the project during the past few years, including to gain approval of a $13 million tax increment financing, or TIF, package that would help cover development costs using new property tax revenues generated at the site. The change in property taxes in a designated economic impact area would be used to repay the TIF loan.
“We’re continuing to move forward with all of our analysis under the assumption that the TIF can still be utilized in its current form,” said David Bradshaw, Oak Ridge city president for CapitalMark Bank and Trust, the lead bank in the TIF lending group. The group also includes TNBank and First National Bank of Tennessee.
Bradshaw said the group would take direction from the city or developer if that changes. He said the new developer appears to be an outstanding company, but the financial institutions need to be comfortable. The analysis of the new developer could be complete in a few days, Bradshaw said.
A site plan for Main Street Oak Ridge was approved by the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission in August, and officials said then that an application had been submitted for a demolition permit.
Some other details weren’t immediately clear on Monday, such as who requested the developer change; how it might affect project lending, if at all; and whether Crosland Southeast might still be involved in some way. While a few residents expressed disappointment at the news of the change in developer, officials and those involved with the project, including in Oak Ridge, expressed continued optimism, pointing to RealtyLink’s other projects, including the one in Sevierville, which they said has about 150,000 to 175,000 square feet of retail. That’s about the same as the new retail envisioned at Main Street Oak Ridge.
“We’re excited to be working with RealtyLink,” Arnsdorff said.
James Downs, partner in Crosland Southeast, was not immediately available for comment early Monday afternoon.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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