The sight of graders and backhoes pulling up asphalt in the north parking lot of Augusta Mall signals that work has begun on the much-anticipated open-air retail addition.
The construction of a 180,000-square-foot "village center" is the biggest news to hit the mall in its 28-year history, but mall managers point out that plenty of work will take place in the mall itself.
"The excitement (of the addition) has overshadowed the fact that the inside will completely change," said Erreca White, the mall's marketing director.
Though the property has undergone numerous renovations since it opened in 1978, "completely" in this case means completely.
"At the end of 2007, you will not recognize the shopping center," mall Manager Linda Hardin said.
The multimillion dollar renovation plan, financed by mall owner General Growth Properties Inc., of Chicago, will provide the mall's 317,000 square feet of common area with new paint, tile, carpeting, light fixtures, guard rails and restrooms.
There also are plans for a rebuilt food court, the relocation of an escalator and the installation of a new elevator.
Work will begin in early January and will take place at night when the mall is closed. In fall 2007, when workers finish the interior renovations - and the exterior addition - the mall will have what Ms. Hardin calls a "traditional-modern" dcor.
"It will have a warmer feeling," she said. "More cozy."
When the overall mall improvement project was announced in fall 2005, most people were captivated by plans for the "village center" expansion, which will be built on sections of the north parking lot and vacant upper floor of the Macy's department store.
The addition, which has not yet been named, will be similar in design to so-called lifestyle centers that have been popular with retail developers during the past several years.
The open-air shopping centers typically are filled with upscale national-chain specialty shops, restaurants and sometimes entertainment venues. Ms. Hardin said Augusta is "retail starved" for those stores.
"We have not had the concepts that meet the needs of our customers here," she said.
Customer surveys show more than half of the city's upper-income shoppers travel elsewhere to make their purchases, she said.
The addition will have space for several small specialty shops, a restaurant and a "big-box" tenant.
Augusta Mall officials so far have confirmed only two tenants in the new expansion: Coldwater Creek, a casual clothier targeting upper-income baby boomers, and Coach, a seller of high-quality leather goods and luggage.
A price-tag for the whole project, including the interior renovation, has not been disclosed. General Growth officials, however, have said that similar expansion/renovation projects at its other properties have been in the $65 million range.
AUGUSTA MALL HISTORY
1978: The 500,000-square-foot Augusta Mall opens, with Rich's and Davison's (which later becomes Macy's) department stores as anchor tenants.
1987: J.C. Penney becomes third anchor tenant, boosts square footage to 632,000.
1990: Renovation adds 120,000 square feet; 157,000-square-foot Sears department store becomes fourth anchor tenant.
1995: Rich's renovation adds 20,000 square feet
1998: J.B. White's 130,000-square-foot store becomes fifth anchor tenant; mall grows to 1.1 million square feet.
1999: Dillard's acquires J.B. White.
2001: Three-year, $10 million property-wide renovation project launched.
2002: Macy's store closes; lower level converted to furniture store.
2004: Mall owner The Rouse Co. is acquired by General Growth Properties Inc. for $12.6 billion.
2005: General Growth Properties announces renovation plan that will create a 180,000-square-foot lifestyle-center.
Fall 2006: Construction of lifestyle center begins.
January 2007: Interior renovations to begin.
Fall 2007: Construction of the addition and interior renovations scheduled for completion.
Sources: Augusta Mall, The Augusta Chronicle archives
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