Posted March 2, 2007 12:02 pm - Updated March 2, 2007 09:48 pm

Store Wars -- The Mall Strikes Back

In the epic battle for the hearts and minds of Augusta-area shoppers, it appears that Augusta Mall is winning the war. Sources say the mall's outdoor "lifestyle center" addition under construction at the site of the former Macy's store is sucking most of the high-end retailers away from a rival lifestyle center project at River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20. Face it, there's only so many upscale retailers to go around. Unlike Dollar Generals and nail salons (which we can't seem to get enough of) you can't have more than one Williams & Sonoma in a market the size of Augusta. The backers of the River Watch Parkway project, called The Village at Riverwatch, earlier this week announced they were pushing completion of the project back nearly a year, reportedly to expand the shopping center to include more stores, restaurants and a hotel with an exhibition center. A spokesman for the developer of the Village at Riverwatch developer, however, declined to disclose potential tenants at the site other than those already named: Dillard's, Belk and Starplex Cinemas. Could the delay and concept tweak be a sign that most upscale retailers have already committed to Augusta Mall? Some in the real estate development industry think so. The mall is owned by General Growth Properties Inc., a $3 billion real estate investment trust in Chicago that operates more than 220 malls throughout the U.S. The Village at Riverwatch project is being headed by Dallas-based MG Herring Group, which is no small potatoes, but is not in the same league as General Growth. So when it comes to negotiating with a tenant, who do you think is carrying the bigger guns? To be fair, the General Growth folks haven't disclosed any tenants at its lifestyle project other than Coldwater Creek and Coach. But they haven't changed their project mid-stream, either. Perhaps Atlanta-based Cousins Properties saw the writing on the wall last year when it scuttled its plans for a lifestyle center at the intersection of River Watch Parkway and Furys Ferry Road. It later joined forces with the MG Herring Group to market the Village at Riverwatch site. So what about the developers of the two other proposed lifestyle center-style projects in area (the Marshall Square project in Evans and the Atlanta-based Forum Development Group project on Walton Way Extension) that haven't even broke ground yet? I'd say that if those projects make it to fruition, they're going to have a hard time finding high-end tenants -- once the mall and Riverwatch projects are finished feasting, there's not going to be anything left but scraps.