Chris Thomas had a consistent message last week: Bridges of Mint Hill will go forward.
That's what the Childress Klein partner told the Mint Hill Lion's Club Tuesday night about the long-delayed retail mall planned for Mint Hill and Interstate 485.
It was a good time for Thomas to speak up. That same day, Childress Klein's co-developer in the project, General Growth Properties Inc., announced it would seek bankruptcy protection if the company couldn't refinance $900 million in debt.
“Chris never put a date on when development would start again, but, in essence, he told us that the mall is still on go,” said Lion's Club member Jack Bryan.
Thomas restated that message to the Observer Wednesday.
“We're still moving forward with some of the approvals we need,” Thomas said. “We do intend to restart in 2009 and we are still committed to building the project.”
General Growth Properties Inc, based in Chicago, is the second-largest mall owner in the U.S. . A spokesman at General Growth did not return calls this week.
Thomas, however, said that key stores still want to be part of Bridges at Mint Hill.
“All the tenant commitments are still in place, including Belk,” he said. “We do have the commitments in place and it includes two other department stores.”
Thomas did not name business commitments other than Belk, which was announced about a year ago. Still, having commitments amid tough economic conditions is a positive sign.
Many retail shopping centers in the Charlotte area and throughout the U.S. are losing tenants and being forced to lower their rents, according to a third-quarter report by Reis Inc, a Chicago-based firm that studies the commercial real estate market across America .
Bridges at Mint Hill is planned to cover 215 acres along Lawyers Road between the town limits of Mint Hill and the I-485 interchange. It will be an open-air complex with 1.3 million square feet of space.
“It's not an enclosed project,” Thomas said. “There are very few enclosed projects being built. Customers like the open-air experience. In this area, it would compare to Birkdale (in northern Mecklenburg County), except Birkdale does not have department stores.”
Representatives from General Growth Properties announced in August plans to delay the shopping complex. At that time they cited the tightening economy.
Bridges at Mint Hill had been projected to open in 2007, but little visible work has been done. “Now is not the best time to be opening new projects, and we have full support and encouragement of our major retailers,” a spokesman for General Growth Properties said at that time.
In August, grading work stopped at the site and has not resumed.