City helps another developer bring retailers to U.S. Hwy. 280/431

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Assistant City Manager hopes to see Moe’s, Aspen Dental, more at strip in front of Walmart on U.S. Hwy. 280

By Blenda Copeland

If you’ve noticed the past week, a building that used to host businesses like Lincare and the Flower Cart on U.S. Highway 280/431 near the Vance Memorial Chapel funeral home has been in demolition mode.

A developer called Halpern Enterprises Inc. of Atlanta, Ga., is working to re-develop that property to hopefully bring Moe’s restaurant, Aspen Dental and AT&T businesses there, according to Phenix City’s Assistant City Manager Steve Smith Jan. 4.

There’s also expectation that, as part of the upgrade, the dead end of South Railroad Street to the funeral home area will be extended.

Meanwhile, the developer is also working on a second project.

The Phenix City Council approved at its meeting Jan. 3 for the mayor and city manager to sign a memorandum of understanding with the company to provide economic assistance toward the second project, also on U.S. Highway 280/431.

The second project will involve a tract of land where there currently sits a high bluff between Goodwill and McDonald’s.

“We’ve been working for several years to get that developed,” Smith said of the land. However, it’s a costly project just to get the site ready, he explained.

Halpern Enterprises is expected to level the bluff – at an estimated cost of about $2.8 million – and to develop the land to possibly bring a major food restaurant and two fast food restaurants.

Smith said that was just regarding the front part of the development. “They plan to develop the back part,” he added, noting that fill dirt would have to be moved around.

Smith estimated that hopefully by about mid-year of 2019, stores will be open at the bluff location.

To aid with getting that project going, Smith said the developer will pay to prepare the site, and the city will collect and dole, in arrears, half the site’s sales tax revenue for up to its first seven years of business with a maximum of $850,000.

Smith pegged the bluff location’s estimated retail sales per year could be around $7.6 million potentially.

He noted that, as was used for other city projects like Riverchase Drive’s development with Mike Bowden and Second Street of Phenix City LLC’s  development where Planet Fitness now sits, the city is using Alabama State Constitution Section 7-7-2 to advance such projects.

Regarding the bluff tract’s development, Smith estimated construction could start around May or June. He noted the Goodwill entrance is where this new development’s entrance will be accessed.

Meanwhile, Smith gave an update on a 22-acre property development by Altera Development of Dallas, Texas. That property is on the south end of town, across from the new Grand Reserve apartments near the Waffle House on Highway 431 South — across from College Drive’s entrance. Smith said plans are moving along. The city has reviewed the development’s plans; the city is waiting for engineering to be finished, and a contractor has been hired.

“We’re meeting with Renfroe’s next week,” he said.

Original expectations were for that retail development to open around the middle of this year and for there to be a “big box retailer” that will have a pharmacy, anchoring the shopping center, whose size could probably be compared to something as big as perhaps the Neighborhood Walmart in Ladonia.

In addressing Facebook chatter about the various retail developments taking so long in Phenix City, Smith said development naturally takes a long time. Plans must be in proper order: there are several topographical challenges in Phenix City, he said, including multiple factors like drainage, bluffs, slopes, etc. Engineering plans must be correct and in order before projects can move forward, he said – something that the city wants, because the city’s “bread and butter” comes from sales tax revenue.

The 2015/2016 budget lists tax revenue as $25,271,554 or 69 percent of the city’s revenue.