Outlet mall would employ 1,500 in Augusta

An Atlanta-based retail developer planning to put a fashion outlet mall in Augusta said it would create 1,500 jobs when completed in 2016.

Officials for Ben Carter Enterprises visited the Village at Riverwatch along Interstate 20 on Wednesday to officially announce an intent to build a 30-space outlet mall, named Premier Outlets of Georgia @ Augusta, in time for the 2016 Masters Tournament. The total project investment is about $150 million.

Company founder Ben Carter said that no tenants have been confirmed for the development but that he has received initial interest from key retailers. He did not disclose the names of any possible stores.

Carter, who arrived in Augusta in his personal helicopter, said common outlet retailers such as Gap, Banana Republic, Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach and Nike signed on board for his outlet mall to open this spring in Savannah, Ga.

The Augusta project would be of a similar size to the Savannah development, which is about 80 percent leased, he said.

For the Augusta center, Carter said, he’d like to have tenant committals for 50 percent of the 400,000-square-foot space by midsummer and break ground by November.

“Typically in our business, we’ve got to get a number of those to want to come and then you build the momentum,” he said.

A site plan of the project shows that the core of the outdoor mall would be clustered behind the Delta Air Lines and Comcast buildings. There also are parcels along the Cabela Drive entrance designated for restaurants, a gym, a hotel, a bank and other retail uses.

Carter said his interest piqued in the site about a decade ago when he considered putting a town center-style mall there but was deterred by the area’s market size. The location off Interstate 20 provides ample visibility and access to motorists, he said.

“Then when I learned Costco had come, that was really exciting,” he said. “For an outlet mall, that’s a great neighbor. When Cabela’s came, it was the icing on the cake.”

Ben Carter Enterprises was formed in 1993 and has developed several shopping centers and malls, including the Mall of Georgia in Gwinnett County and St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville, Fla. Carter said his firm entered the outlet mall arena about a year ago.

Carter and Augusta officials are still in the process of working out a “reasonable” incentive package, but no other details were provided.

The proposed commercial development is expected to garner about $200 million in overall sales tax revenue.

“It’s huge,” Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said. “When you’re talking about the sales tax impact, a lot of those dollars generated will be from visitors from outside the area into our local economy. It really will be a regional draw, so they’ll be bringing in people from Columbia, S.C., from as far away as Lake Oconee (Ga.).”

Fifty acres of the development went through the first phase of a rezoning process Monday, a necessary step to bring the outlet mall to the site. The land is zoned light industry and multiple-family residential, and developers are seeking a general business zoning.

The Village at Riverwatch is a 92-acre development owned by Dallas firm MG Herring Group. The first tenant was Costco in 2011.

The center’s concept has changed over the past six years from a lifestyle shopping center with high-end retailers to a Belk-anchored strip with a hotel.

In 2008, Bass Pro Shops picked a site in the development, but Augusta was removed from its plan after delays and bad economic conditions. Bass Pro also announced plans last year to build a store in Columbia County, but pulled out of that project, too.

This is the first area outlet mall to materialize but not the first to make waves in the community. Since 2011, local real estate firm Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial had tested the waters for an outlet mall in Gateway shopping center, off the Grovetown exit of Interstate 20, but solid plans never formulated.

Last summer, the company’s senior vice president, Matt Mills, said that outlet retailers were reluctant to locate in metro Augusta because of the city’s small market size and because they didn’t want to compete with their primary retail stores already established.

Rezoning for outlet mall at the Village at Riverwatch to go before planning commission

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