Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Shopping center to replace McFarland Mall

McFarland Mall, opened in February 1969 as Alabama’s second-oldest enclosed mall, was once a landmark development and one of the city’s highest traffic areas. Now, the mall is all but abandoned and has fallen into disrepair.

Local real estate developer Stan Pate plans to redevelop the mall, located at the corner of McFarland Boulevard and Skyland Boulevard, through a project called Encore, calling for most existing infrastructure to be demolished. Pate will come in front of the City Council to ask for an incentive package similar to the proposed Shoppes at Legacy Park development.

The developers of the Legacy Park project requested a total of $18 million in tax rebates over the course of 25 years in turn for bringing a site that will boast six anchor stores, including Bed Bath & Beyond and World Market, behind the Krispy Kreme on McFarland Boulevard.

Some citizens, such as Amanda Weaver, who has lived in the area for 32 years, feel current retail spaces are underutilized and spending millions of dollars to build another new plaza like Legacy Park does not make sense.

“I felt like [Legacy Park] was maybe poorly planned,” Weaver said. “We have a lot of areas of town that need attention such as University Mall, and we still have stores in Midtown that haven’t been occupied yet.”

Developers push to build new areas so they will get huge rebates, and they cannot get them by utilizing spaces already available, Weaver said.

“It seems like the city’s getting a lot of heat just from the developer companies and so forth to build, build, build and the same for student housing,” Weaver said. “They want new. They don’t want to revamp the old.”

The Encore project plans to ask for a very similar incentive package, if not larger, Pate said.

“We’ve got a 42-acre site, and we have a major anchor and a significant number of junior anchors that are coming to the site,” he said.

Pate said while there may be a little competition over tenants, both projects have merit and advantages over the other.

“There’s certainly a lot of retail faces that aren’t in Tuscaloosa that I believe the community needs, wants and is looking forward to,” Pate said. “[Pate Holdings has] a project that some of the same tenants are looking at, but as a developer, I see it as a great project, and as a developer that has a competing side, I don’t see it as a threat at all. There’s enough interest in Tuscaloosa to fill up three sites.”

Pate said in Tuscaloosa, a lot of people are driving outside the city because they have an appetite for a retailer that does not have a store here, so the main goal should be to figure out how to keep the people and dollars in town.

“If [the citizens] want to shop at a specific store, they will drive,” Pate said. “And Jefferson County has become all too convenient, and it has become a normal part of their routine to drive to the Homewoods and the Mountain Brooks of the world to spend their money, and then the sales tax revenue supports that community’s schools, that community’s streets, that community’s fire [department] and that community’s police.”

Pate cited the recent Midtown shopping center’s successful tax incentive program as a reason to continue similar plans to bring even more retailers to town.

“If you look at our economic impact study and the projections of the revenues, the city would benefit from the development of Midtown. Our projections were conservative, and the project has paid huge dividends,” Pate said. “And in this recession if you go and look at sales tax revenue in the city, there has actually been growth, and I think that is because we have embraced new projects and new retailers, and it keeps dollars in Tuscaloosa.”

In a sales-tax-based state, the city cannot ignore the importance of citizens shopping at home and attracting people from the surrounding areas to Tuscaloosa, Pate said.

“You only have to look at what happens in the community when you have a football game like LSU,” he said. “You bring a significant number of people into the community for several days and see what it does for businesses and then what it does for sales tax collection as a result of that business. I mean it just makes good business sense.”

Pate said he believes these projects ultimately come together, across the nation, when they operate as a joint effort between the community and the developer.

“There is a significant number of these retailers across the country that recognize these SEC towns that are enjoying tremendous growth and great opportunities,” he said. “And you just need the community, the developer, local government and these retailers to come together to have a successful project that will pay dividends for a very, very long time.”

Whether citizens agree with the policy or not, when looking at the end results, they pay tremendous dividends, Pate said.

“The city has shown a willingness to make investments that pay dividends, some that are just pure quality of life and then some that produce significant revenues,” Pate said. “And like it or not, making that investment in Legacy and Encore and other projects will pay huge dividends.”

With the barricades already up, Pate said the Encore project has already begun, and demolition will start soon since they have the ability to work through the winter. He said the presentation of Encore’s incentive request would be in the near future as they wait for new members of the City Council to get comfortable in their positions.

Weaver said, overall, she is not against more retailers coming to town. She is just against spending a lot of money for the development of new spaces when the city could revitalize existing ones.

“I would love to see these type of businesses come to town because Tuscaloosa really needs more restaurants, more places to shop, and I know it’s been voiced that a lot of people go to Birmingham to shop, so we need more here,” Weaver said. “But once again, we’re just under-utilizing the areas we already have. I think, fill those, and if we still have room to grow, then spend $62 million.”

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