There have been some minor changes to the plans, but the new developer at Main Street Oak Ridge still plans to open the retail-driven, mixed-use development by the Christmas 2016 holiday season, the city’s retail consultant said last week.
RealtyLink, the new South Carolina-based developer, took over as master developer in September, replacing Crosland Southeast, the firm that had led the redevelopment effort for more than two years.
Oak Ridge retail consultant Ray Evans said RealtyLink has a good relationship with Crosland, a North Carolina-based company.
“They have essentially picked up where Crosland left off,” Evans said.
RealtyLink has plans for about 60,000 more square feet of retail than Crosland did, giving the project a total of about 460,000 square feet of retail, including in the two remaining anchors, Belk and JCPenney.
Some changes have been made to the proposed residential units, although Main Street would still include the same number of units, and the proposed hotel has been moved slightly. There may also be fewer amenities for Main Street Oak Ridge residents than Crosland Southeast had proposed, Evans said.
A closing date hasn’t been announced, but RealtyLink wants to close as quickly as possible, Evans said. Environmental abatement, which includes asbestos removal, is mostly done, and the company can immediately start demolition once they close. Demolition could start at the former Sears store and proceed counterclockwise around the 60-acre site, Evans said.
Construction could start first near the Belk store.
RealtyLink takes the approach that the project doesn’t have to be completed all at once, Evans said.
“These guys have a reputation for finishing what they start,” he said.
Main Street Oak Ridge could include a mix of anchor stores, so-called junior retailers, restaurants, the residential units, and the hotel. The existing indoor space between Belk and JCPenney would be demolished, although those two stores would remain.
During a presentation to the League of Women Voters last week, Evans gave a history of the site, including the former Downtown Shopping Center that opened in the mid-1950s; the “mall wars” in the mid-1980s, when two malls were proposed in Oak Ridge; and the development of the Oak Ridge Mall, which was added on to the old shopping center after businessman and developer Guilford Glazer sold the property to Crown American.
With 750,000 square feet, the Oak Ridge Mall was probably overbuilt by about 250,000 square feet, Evans said. That’s one of several issues that residents say plagued the former mall. They also say rent became too high toward the end, and Evans said some retailers at the mall didn’t want to be there but had to be in order to be in other Crown American properties. When their Oak Ridge leases expired, Evans said, those tenants left.
Several redevelopment plans have floundered since then, including one rejected by Oak Ridge voters in a referendum in the early 2000s. The property, which is owned by Oak Ridge City Center LLC, was put on the market about three years ago.
Since then, Crosland Southeast, which hadn’t closed on a purchase, has probably had 50 different site plans for the redevelopment, Evans said.
Now, with the change in developer, some minor changes, including a name and date change, are needed in the documents related to the $13 million tax increment increment financing, or TIF, package that developers could use at Main Street Oak Ridge. That means TIF-related documents have to again be considered by the Anderson County Commission, Oak Ridge City Council, and Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board. A TIF uses new property tax revenues generated at a site to help pay for development.
The Industrial Development Board has a public hearing and special meeting on the TIF and an amendment to the economic impact plan at 3:45 p.m. Monday, October 19, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Training Room.
Evans said RealtyLink has a contract to purchase the mall property, and they are committed to retailers. They need to finish the redevelopment to maintain their credibility on future projects, Evans said.
Main Street Oak Ridge is expected to draw from a market area of about 250,000 people, including to the north and west of Oak Ridge. The market area is similar to the market area for Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge.
Crosland Southeast and officials 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.
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.
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