Officials in Lakeland are hopeful that a long-planned redevelopment of the old Lakeland Factory Outlet Mall site could finally become a reality.
The Lakeland Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution expressing support for the project, including asking city staff to explore possible incentives that could get the project off the drawing board and into development.
The mall is crucial to Lakeland, the small but rapidly growing Memphis suburb. The mall gradually emptied out, with tenants leaving around 2008 and 2009. From time to time, a tenant will open a temporary, pop-up store there.
With the mall remaining almost empty, residents lost a local place to shop, and Lakeland lost a major source of sales tax revenues generated at the property.
“It’s very important,” said J. Higbee, interim city manager for Lakeland. “It was at one time the single largest sales tax generator in the city, and it’s missed by the people who enjoyed shopping there as well. We all hope the vision the owner has cast, which is a very nice, upscale outlet mall, will come back in full force and be even better than it was before, and that’s what we’re going for now.”
Higbee just began exploring what incentives, if any, Lakeland could offer to bring the 34-acre site back to life.
“If it’s possible to put a package together that helps them get to where they want to go, we would like to help them do it,” said Higbee, who added that any incentives would have to approved by commissioners.
Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker said one financing method could include the use of tax increment financing (TIF), a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects. New revenues derived from the project can be spent on public works projects or given as subsidies to encourage private development.
California-based Gilad Development Inc. acquired the property in 2005, and the latest plans include razing the main outlet mall building, replacing it with several smaller structures and renovating the annex building for a project called Lakeland Grand Outlet.
The development company’s proposed site plan for the project was approved by the Lakeland Municipal Planning Commission this summer, but the redevelopment project has faced several hurdles in the past.
In 2009, Gilad shelved a previous renovation plan, which included redesigning the property with an Americana theme.
Lakeland Grand Outlets will encompass approximately 374,000 square feet in multiple buildings, which could give it the look and feel of a lifestyle center.
Gilad officials did not return messages seeking comment.
The Lakeland Factory Outlet Mall enjoyed moderate success for years, but business began suffering with the opening of the nearby Wolfchase Galleria mall.
If the project actually moves into the development phase, it would coincide with redevelopment of the traffic-choked Interstate 40/Canada Road interchange. Higbee said the Tennessee Department of Transportation expects work on the interchange to begin in early 2014.
Higbee said Gilad officials, including Gilad Development president Yehuda Netanel, should be busy getting lease commitments and doing site preparation before the road construction begins.
“(Netanel) has to be out there doing work prior to that,” Higbee said. “He’s going to have to sign tenants before that. It’s a whole series of steps, and we don’t have a lot of time left."
Bunker is a major proponent of the project, one that he said would provide much-needed jobs and a quality-of-life amenity for residents.
“This will be one of the largest private investments in any retail development over the last five years,” Bunker said. “We’re talking about millions and millions of investment, and it will provide jobs to our residents and others across the community.”