Sylacauga City Council hears retail shopping center proposal
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – A Birmingham-based development company proposed a retail shopping center for the city-owned acreage along U.S. 280 during a City Council work session Monday.

Gary Pharo and Kathy Dennis of The Shopping Center Group, LLC, presented a preliminary site plan for a 186,200 square foot shopping center to be located on the city’s 33-acre property near Walmart. The drawing included six junior anchor stores, 8,000 square feet for smaller shops, five outparcels, an amphitheater, temporary booths for events, community garden space and 860 parking spaces, among other amenities.

While the proposed size “is probably a little large,” Pharo said, the company intends to make good use of the land and fit the shopping center to the community’s needs.

“It’s a great piece of property,” Pharo said. “I’d love for you to consider giving it to us.”’

He said Sylacauga could probably realistically fill a 100,000 to 120,000 square foot center, but “I’d love 186,000, and if the demand is there, we’ll build it.”

Councilman Joe Hogan asked what tenants the company could bring to the center, and Pharo said it is too early to say, but it would rely on customers traveling there from surrounding areas, like Childersburg and Talladega, to be successful and attract retailers.

“Usually, we start with a site plan, put your property under contract so you know you have time to work on it,” Pharo said, “then you do a gap analysis and find out what is absent from the community, and then start trying to put your pieces together with the different retailers.”

The Shopping Center Group is asking for an option on the land and about six months time to market it and gauge the retailer interest.

“It’ll be a bi-party contract,” Pharo said. “We’ll have a period of time to perform due diligence, such as subsoil testing, begin work with traffic engineers, take the architects a little further and work with the retailers. All this won’t be completed in six months, but we’ll have an idea of what the market’s telling us. If it’s not something we can pull off, you’ve got your land back. After the initial six months, we may need an additional six months to get leases signed, financing complete and to start construction.”

He said the city would be responsible for inquiring about locating a traffic signal on U.S. 280 at the entry of the shopping center. Also, the company would eventually like to bridge the gap between the proposed center and the Walmart shopping area.

The council agreed to begin contract negotiations. Council President Rocky Lucas said the city “would like to see the ball start rolling on this property, because right now, it’s making zero (dollars).”

The city has previously negotiated with two development companies for retail centers on the same property with no success. In 2010, Cullman-based Drinkard Development proposed a 145,000 square foot center, but after the city failed to take advantage of an available tax-free bond to fund the project, Drinkard withdrew its proposal. In January 2012, the previous City Council ended talks with Birmingham-based Retail Specialists, Inc., when two parties were unable reach a financing agreement for a 70,000 square foot center.

Also at Monday’s work session, the council discussed:

• Bidding procedures for the various city improvement projects, including extensive renovations and repairs at City Hall. City Clerk Patricia Carden asked the council if it would pre-approve the city to seek bids for each of the individual projects to save time. Councilmen will still have to approve bids before they are awarded.

• A request from FedEx to locate a drop box at 126 N. Norton Avenue.

• A budget amendment request from Fire Chief Matt Missildine to allow for about $4,500 to purchase new data-recording software and two tablet-style computers.

• A request from Missildine to change the residency requirements for firemen from living within a 10-mile radius of the city to within a 60-minute drive of the city, allowing for a larger pool of trained applicants.

• A third request from Missildine to forgo the step-and-a-half pay raise he will be eligible for since he earned a bachelor’s degree in emergency management in exchange for an additional two weeks of vacation each year. Carden said any policy change would have to apply to every city employee, and the council decided to form a subcommittee to review its outdated employee benefit policies.

• Accountability checks for the city’s appropriations. Hogan said he would like to do the budget differently and start with $0 for each group instead of level funding, as a means to create more accountability for how city-funded organizations spend taxpayer money.

The council meets Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013