Developers embrace retail in Tupelo

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Published: September 17,2007

Empty storefronts don’t bother developers and retailers in Tupelo’s Barnes Crossing Mall area. In spite of available space, construction continues at a fast pace in the retail area in the north part of the city.

Vacancies in strip centers and even The Mall at Barnes Crossing, which started all the retail construction activity in a cotton field nearly two decades ago, are noticeable in the retail area that measures approximately one mile by a half mile.

Trucks are hauling dirt, filling in a low area in the northwest corner of the U.S. 45 and U.S. 78 intersection. The 61 acres were purchased during the summer by V.M. Cleveland, owner of the Tupelo Furniture Market and a developer. He’s tightlipped about what’s going in on top of the millions of cubic yards being trucked into what is called Tupelo Commons.

Rumor is strong that an outdoor supply store, likely Gander Mountain, will occupy the first pad. Cleveland admits a building of approximately 80,000 square feet will be erected there but doesn’t divulge what will occupy it, saying instead, “The outdoor activities market is one sector that’s underserved in this region.”

Tupelo Commons will expand Cleveland’s investment in the development; he constructed the building that houses Best Buy and another, larger building next door that is home to Ashley Furniture and Hancock Fabrics. Most of the building is still empty but will soon be home to a Japanese restaurant and a retailer relocating from another part of Tupelo.

“We have good prospects and we’re close to inking the deals,” says Cleveland. He expects to be able to make some announcements in early October. Cleveland adds that the potential exists for eventually constructing as much as 800,000 square feet of buildings on Tupelo Commons’ 61 mostly vacant acres.

Less than a mile north on Gloster Street, the new Kohl’s department store is nearing completion and its opening in mid-October. The anchor store of the King’s Crossing shopping center comprises 89,911 square feet of space, according to Loretta Edwards, director of marketing for developer The Woodmont Co. of Dallas/Fort Worth.

An additional 110,000 square feet of space is available in three separate buildings on the southern and western perimeters of the development. “We have 12 spaces as they’re laid out, now,” says Edwards.

Those spaces were all available as of mid-September. Edwards said, at that time, a couple of potential tenants were yet to be signed.

All the new construction tends to put some pressure on some of the more venerable players in the Barnes Crossing area. The mall itself is a good case in point.

“We’re in an $11-million remerchandising project,” says Jeff Snyder, manager of the mall owned by Kentucky-based David Hocker & Associates.

The re-do, Snyder explains, includes an addition to the 811,000-square-foot structure, but refuses to fill in details about the undertaking. Most of the new construction is in the northeast quadrant of the mall. Snyder allows that there will be approximately a half-dozen new, “very costly” retailers in the spaces. He refers to the concessions the mall had to make to get the retailers’ commitments to open there.

He says most of the mall’s vacancies were planned in order to open space for new retailers that shoppers want. Leases were allowed to run out and were not renewed in anticipation of courting other tenants.

“All malls try to get better tenants,” says Snyder. “We should have started this three years ago.”

He predicts that the makeover will position the mall for another 20 years of viability as a retail space provider and make it attractive enough to draw new shoppers.

David Rumbarger, president of the Community Development Foundation, lauds the mall owner’s effort at improving its appearance. “Malls have a life cycle of 20-25 years, and they’re 17 years into it. I think the mall is doing great with its proactive project.”

Rumbarger shrugs off the notion that the mall area may well be overbuilt. He says empty spaces “are transient” in that they eventually land tenants — and tenants come and go.

“Empty space doesn’t concern me. Our main problem is that (retailers) don’t really realize how big this retail market is,” says Rumbarger. Indeed, most national and regional retailers locating in the Barnes Crossing area erect stores that are among the smaller ones in the respective chains. Tupelo, they eventually learn, serves as a regional shopping destination for Northeast Mississippi and rural areas of southern Tennessee and Northwest Alabama.

“Best Buy,” reports Rumbarger, “built their smallest store and now they wish they had gone bigger.”

Rumors of a Target department store, long a focus of recruitment efforts in the city, locating in the soybean field across North Gloster Street from Tupelo Commons are not corroborated by Rumbarger.
“There are a lot of projects floating around the mall right now,” says Rumbarger.

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