Prattville – Nearly a year after High Point Town Center opened in East Prattville, residents and shop owners alike are troubled by the lifestyle center’s lack of occupancy. In addition to that, the center’s out-parcels remain empty as well.
The lack of foot traffic, which merchants feel is affecting sales, has them concerned.
Shoppers are dismayed by the fact that the mall debuted with only a handful of stores occupying the vast center.
High Point Town Center, an AIG Baker and McClinton and Co. development is an outdoor mall located in Prattville, Alabama, just off I-65. There is space available for approximately 70 stores in the shopping complex.
The Bass Pro Shops was the first store to open at the center in August of 2007, and that was later followed by Publix, Best Buy, JC Penney and Belk in the fall of 2008.
As far as smaller shops go, there is Nestle Toll House, The Teaching Tree, Avon, Royal Nails, Curves and Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar. Smoothies-N-Things is coming soon.
The aforementioned shops are mainly concentrated around JC Penney and Belk. The entire section between those two anchor stores remains completely empty with lease signs displayed in many of the storefront windows.
Tony Huynh, manager of Royal Nails & Spa, a staple in other McClinton & Co. developments, describes his business as “just fair,” attributing that mostly to the lack of stores leased in the mall.
“A lot of people do not know we’re here because there are not a lot of stores around,” Huynh said. “It’s not like someone would be walking around looking at different stores here and just find us. They have to know we’re here, like word-of-mouth from our regular customers.”
“Someone talked to me about opening a clothing store next to Belk, but she’s hesitating to lease and concerned that her business would not be successful because there are not many stores here.”
Huynh’s next door neighbor, Avon shop owner Pam Marchant of Alabaster, Alabama, opened her store on November 22, 2008 and describes her sales as “good,” attributing this to the proximity of two anchor stores in the center.
“We get a lot of traffic from Belk and the Bass Pro Shop,” said Marchant. “I do not have any regrets moving to this location. Of course, I would benefit from other stores being open in the mall, but business is still good.”
Marchant has a theory about why most of the stores remain empty.
“I think people are scared to death to lease shops right now in this bad economy,” she said.
One storeowner spoke under the condition of anonymity and commented on mediocre sales.
“At first it was decent, especially considering the occupancy, and it’s still not bad,” said the owner. “So, we’re basically treading water right now.”
“In terms of volume, I’m doing so-so, but if we had regular traffic out there, I think we’d be thriving.”
The anonymous owner recalled that during the lease negotiation process, the broker mentioned the likelihood that new stores would be locating at High Point in the near future.
“The real estate broker (The Daniel Group) that I worked with did indicate during negotiations around August of 2008 that he was working with about 8 stores that he hoped would be in by Spring of 2009,” the owner stated.
“He even showed me the names and prospective sites for the stores he was negotiating with, though he admitted that none had signed to date.”
According to the storeowner, the broker alluded to the fact that there would be a high rate of occupancy after the first year, which to this point has obvious;y not come to pass.
“He also told me that he felt confident that within a year, occupancy would be approaching 70-80% – which is what we were looking for,” the owner explained. “Obviously, most of the larger stores he mentioned did not sign, and the center is not close to that level of occupancy.”
“That said, no one with McClinton & Co. or their real estate broker, ‘promised or assured’ me of any particular occupancy rate or that X number of stores would sign within a certain time frame. I’d like to think that this was unexpected and more the result of the worsening economy than any deliberate attempt to misinform.”
High Point shopper Amber Manuel of Millbrook questions why the mall debuted with only a handful of stores.
“I feel the stores should have been lined up beforehand … before the mall opened,” Manuel stated. “Why did they open with so few stores leased?”
“I feel they need to bring more restaurants here and more department stores (not big ones), but something like a Kirkland’s and maybe a nice shoe store.”
Belk customer Patsy Davenport of Prattville is pleased that the shops are here and speculates why other stores have not leased.
“I guess the economy has something to do with it, but they are building new stores across the street,” said Davenport. “Maybe the rent is too high here, so instead of small businesses leasing at the mall, maybe they should go with more upscale places that can afford the rent.”
The weak economy has been a factor in this situation, and AIG Baker has had its own set of financial woes to deal with lately.
In June, The Birmingham News reported that Birmingham-based shopping center owner AIG Baker had defaulted on mortgages on the Patton Creek Shopping Center in Hoover and Jubilee Square in Daphne. The loan default prompted mortgage holder Regions Bank to step in and collect rents from their tenants, according to a letter sent to tenants at both malls in May.
AIG Baker has been repeatedly contacted by Our Prattville and has never responded to requests for comments.
When asked for comment, McClinton & Co. senior vice president of development David McClinton made a brief statement via email.
“Due to the lack of credibility of your ‘news magazine’, your absence of integrity, poor research, knowledge and fact finding on subjects that you write about, combined with the broader fact that most of the questions you pose seem to point to your complete ignorance of the world economic crisis and deep recession, I will decline from further comment explaining to you these events and their effect on local, regional, national and global business.”
Article by Marc Parker
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