The last time Stan Eichelbaum was in town, in the late 1970s, he was part of the development team working on Augusta Mall.
"When we broke ground on the project, the largest center in Augusta, Ga., was a 41-store strip center," the development adviser said.
Regency Mall and Augusta Mall opened within weeks of each other in 1978.
"And ... 1.6 million square feet of mall space opened and changed the complexion and the competitiveness of this community dramatically," Mr. Eichelbaum said.
He was back in town Tuesday to discuss how Augusta's retail landscape has continued to evolve and how the city must keep up.
Mr. Eichelbaum, now president of Marketing Developments Inc., in Cincinnati, spoke to about 30 city and business leaders at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta.
He foresees overbuilding in a number of cities, he said, adding that many cities already are dealing with vacant businesses.
City officials are discussing whether to move government offices into Regency Mall, which is now closed. It was recently purchased by out-of-state developers who said they are considering a number of uses for the space.
Federated Department Stores Inc. still has not announced plans for the former Macy's building it owns in the Augusta Mall. The 156,000-square-foot space has been empty since the store closed in March.
Mr. Eichelbaum said that if Augusta could replicate the success it has had on the waterfront and downtown, the city's retail issues could also be addressed.
"I know when you look at those empty big boxes it's easy to get distressed," he said. "But I encourage you to look back at all the achievements and now apply the same resourcefulness to your potential within the retail sector."
In most of the examples of success Mr. Eichelbaum gave, cities emphasized heavy planning - a message that was not lost on local officials.
"We've taken a lot of time to do long-range planning for economic development as it pertains to recruitment of industry and business," said Ed Presnell, the interim president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. "But we need to pay more attention to economic development opportunities within the retail world.
"It seems that a good comprehensive retail plan would be the next step for us to work with."
"I know when you look at those empty big boxes it's easy to get distressed. But I encourage you to look back at all the achievements and now apply the same resourcefulness to your potential within the retail sector." - Stan Eichelbaum, of Marketing Developments, to Augusta officials
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.