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City leaders talk future of Bridge Street, what’s to come for upscale shopping center
on June 04, 2013 at 4:51 PM, updated June 04, 2013 at 11:01 PM
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Despite four businesses shutting their doors at Bridge Street Town Centre this spring, spokesman Van Geroux said the future of the 6-year-old mixed-use regional shopping center “has never been brighter.”
News reports in late April revealed that three Bridge Street businesses, which are now closed, owed thousands of dollars in business personal property taxes to Madison County. A month later, Tommy’s Pizza announced it was closing after operating five years at the shopping center.
Geroux, who wouldn’t divulge Bridge Street’s sales figures because they are proprietary, said the temporary setback hasn’t seriously impacted the shopping center’s sales productivity, which exceeds the national average and ranks high among open-air centers across the southeast. He said Bridge Street has experienced healthy sales gains every year since opening in 2007, but officials don’t yet know how sequestration will affect the shopping center.
“It is difficult to measure the sales impact that a proposed sequestration may have on consumers’ buying habits,” he said. “Some consumers may decide to simply delay their purchases rather than eliminate them entirely.”
Tommy’s Pizza Owner Tommy Bergin, who opened and closed a second location at 4851 Whitesburg Drive, said profits declined 40 percent during the past year, The Times’ news partner WHNT reports. Bergin told WHNT that challenges for his business were compounded because of construction and increased rent.
Attempts to reach Bergin on Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful. Geroux said it is against company policy to discuss tenant-related matters due to confidentiality.
Madison County tax collector Lynda Hall said Pinz, Heritage Club and Watercresswere the three Bridge Street businesses to collectively owe more than $10,000 in business personal property taxes. Heritage Club, a once-popular lunch and dinner group involved in an internal lawsuit, has paid back $2,145.89 in taxes and late fees, Hall said.
Pinz, an upscale bowling alley based in Milford, Mass., and Watercress, a fine-dining restaurant, have not paid their taxes. Since equipment has been abandoned at both businesses, Hall said the county will confirm there are no liens on the items before seizing the property for public auction later this month. A date and location for the auction have not been set, Hall said.
Geroux said the outstanding tax issues related to Heritage Club, Pinz and Watercress are unrelated to the shopping center’s business operations.
“Our leasing department is in active negotiations with potential tenants for these spaces,” he said. “We are unable to discuss specific store names while in negotiations; however, as leases are signed, announcements of store names will be released.”
Pinz at Bridge Street opened in May 2012 in a heavily-remodeled space formerly occupied by The Zone. Watercress started in an old home at 515 Fountain Row near downtown Huntsville in October 2010 before moving to Bridge Street a year later.
New stores expected to open at Bridge Street this year include apparel store Buckle on July 18, dining establishment Bar Louie this summer, and candy store It’Sugar and locally-operated Rejuvenation Nail Spa this fall. Last June, Alabama’s only H&M store opened at Bridge Street, followed by Mattress Firm in December.
Construction on a 170,000-square-foot, two-level Belk flagship store at Bridge Street is expected to start in September before the grand opening in fall 2014. Four other retail developments, which have not been announced, will make up 50,000 square feet and also open next year.
The former scenic, manmade lake at Bridge Street’s west side is being filled to raise the site elevation so construction crews can begin work on the infrastructure at Belk this fall, Geroux said. In addition to the retail development, a new surface parking lot and 830 parking spaces will be added at the property.
Don Beck, a partner with The Shopping Center Group who runs the company’s Huntsville office on Clinton Avenue, said Tuesday the Huntsville retail market is still seeing interest from restaurants, discount and value retailers and a few upper-end stores. While some retailers and restaurants have reported a sales decline, Beck said others seem to be doing well.
“I think that the addition of Belk really helps Bridge Street,” he said. “As Huntsville moves west into Limestone County and is occupied by potentially thousands of new citizens, Bridge Street could find itself in the center of not only Cummings Research Park, but Huntsville itself. The owners may have to adjust rents, tenant mix, promotional events, etc. But, if Huntsville grows to the west like it has the potential to do, Bridge Street could be very well positioned. ”
For a local merchant to be successful at a high-end shopping center like Bridge Street, Beck said the “margin of error” has to be small.
“In lifestyle centers like Bridge Street, you typically have more security, more landscaping, more parking lot maintenance or things like parking decks and underground parking, extended hours, lakes, and all of those cost money,” he said. “Under the previous Bridge Street ownership, sometimes the triple-net expenses exceeded the base rent that you could get at other properties around town, but of course, you didn’t get all the amenities that Bridge Street has to offer.”
Beck said national chains can afford a “hiccup periodically, while a local entrepreneur typically doesn’t have that luxury.”
“In retail, rent and payroll will be your highest expenses below the cost of merchandise,” he said. “If your rent is relatively high, you have to have an extraordinary amount of sales or operate very efficiently or both. It makes it difficult for a local merchant. Another point of all of that – a national retailer has experience running hundreds of stores over numbers of years, so they have systems and best practices engrained in their culture and it flows through to every store. They’ve already made a lot of mistakes and worked their bugs out.”
Birmingham-based Bayer Properties, which manages Bridge Street, developed The Summit shopping center in Birmingham and currently owns or operates more than 12 million square feet of retail and office properties. O&S Holdings previously managed Bridge Street.
Bart Smith, managing broker for Graham & Co in Huntsville, said consumers may not be spending as much money at Bridge Street as they have in the past due to cuts in defense spending.
“I think it’s just a short-term drop in demand for those restaurants that were there,” he said. “Belk I’m sure is going to do well. Bridge Street’s base is lunch traffic for Research Park and Redstone workers, as well as weekend shoppers.”
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