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Westover Crossing situated at a

Initial work for new shopping center getting underway

Hattiesburg — Three businessmen — a real estate agent, a contractor and a real estate developer — are renovating an empty Kmart on U.S. 98 West and converting it into a shopping center that will include among its tenants Academy Sports & Outdoors and LongHorn Steakhouse.

Westover Crossing, located on U.S. 98 at Westover Drive, will have Academy as one of the anchor stores, according to Andy Stetelman, a real estate agent specializing in commercial property and one of what is called Westover Partners.

“Academy will occupy 75,000 square feet of the building’s total of 170,000 square feet,” Stetelman said. “LongHorn will be located in one of the four out-parcels.”

Academy plans to open in the last quarter of this year and LongHorn by the year’s end.

Stetelman’s partners are Dennis Pierce, owner of PierCon Construction and Ron Bayliss, who is retired from the insurance business and now invests in real estate.

Pierce’s company is doing all of the construction work necessary to prepare for the tenants. Academy will choose its own contractor and LongHorn will “build from scratch,” Stetelman said.

“I don’t know who will do the work for Academy and LongHorn and I doubt if they know yet, either,” Pierce said. “There’s no architect for overall design, no master plan. But there will be architects for individual stores and out-parcels.”
“We’re in the middle of our work right now and we plan to be finished within 60 days. The tenants can’t start their own work until we finish.”

Repairing and restriping the parking lot is one aspect of the construction work.

“We’re also reconfiguring the parking lot to accommodate Academy’s outdoor displays — things like boats and deer stands.”

Pierce is also bringing the parking lot lighting to a higher candle power, to make the lot “safer and more user-friendly.” No changes will be made to the actual lighting fixtures. And portions of the roof will be redone. Most of the items in the building have been removed, Pierce indicated, and the inside has been gutted.

“We’re also taking care of some delayed maintenance work inside the building, for problems such as leaks,” Pierce said. “But considering it has been empty since 2002, the structural integrity of the building is extremely good.”

This is the second empty Kmart that Stetelman and Pierce have converted into retail space. In 2000, they opened 49 Place, near Cloverleaf Mall at the intersection of Broadway Drive and U.S. 49 South. PierCon also did the construction work necessary to turn the former Kmart building into 49 Place.

PierCon was incorporated in 1993. Pierce has been in the commercial and residential construction and development industry in Forrest and Lamar Counties for 25 years.

Pierce said that his company has completed more than 200 projects, including the First National Bank, Farm Bureau Insurance building, Methodist Hospital Counseling Center, Boral Bricks and Willow Point Shopping Center in Hattiesburg; Farm Bureau Service Center in Brookhaven; and Lumberton Tech Prep Classroom Building in Lumberton.

Stetelman believes that the announcement about Academy and LongHorn will catalyze talks with other potential tenants, but added that he’s not yet ready to release any more names.

The types of stores that Westover is looking to secure include a crafts store and a home improvement store.

“And a dozen casual and fast-food restaurants have expressed interest in locating in Westover. There are the remaining three out-parcels. And we have two offers on the table to open a restaurant in the former garden center inside the building.”

He indicated that there was also some interest in the Kmart cafeteria.

“It’s a prime location,” Stetelman said. “Sixty thousand cars pass by there every day.”

Angie Dvorak, president of the Area Development Partnership, also called the Westover Drive and U.S. 98 intersection a “prime location. It’s in the part of Hattiesburg where Forrest and Lamar counties meet.”

The building was owned by Verizon Trust, as an investment, and leased to Kmart. Stetelman had been negotiating to get the building since Kmart left.

With construction of Turtle Creek Crossing shopping center further along U.S. 98, Stetelman thinks that more developments will be coming to the area.

“Target’s endorsement of the area by moving into Turtle Creek Crossing will bring more retail and restaurants”, he said.

Academy Sports & Outdoors operates 80 stores in eight states and has some 6,500 employees. Academy’s “formula of low prices and a large selection has allowed the company to become a leader in the sporting goods industry,” according to an Academy spokesperson.

Academy traces it founding back to 1938.
LongHorn Steakhouse has 217 stores nationwide, in an atmosphere reminiscent of a western-style steakhouse, according to Stetelman.

In addition to steak, LongHorn offers chicken, pork and seafood, grilled to order, as well as hamburgers and salads.
RARE Hospitality International Inc., LongHorn’s parent company, owns and franchises a total of 273 restaurants, including Bugaboo Creek Steak House, the Capital Grille, Hemenway’s Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar and the Old Grist Mill Tavern.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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