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Shopping center project on hold

The withdrawal of a key tenant leaves the future in doubt for a planned $40 million shopping center on U.S. 74 in western Monroe.

Home Depot, originally expected to be one of three anchor stores, now says it won't build a store at Secrest Place shopping center east of Rocky River Road.

“We re-evaluated the site, and it no longer worked for us, based on the financials behind the deal,” company spokesman Craig Fischel said. “... We're trying to be more strategic about where we open new locations.”

The home improvement store's decision has forced the developer to put the 78-acre shopping center project on hold, said Kirk Rankin, a manager with Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Fletcher Bright Co.

The developer had hoped to break ground this month. The firm learned in May that Home Depot was out, Rankin said.

“We don't have enough (tenants) to fill all the square footage,” Rankin said. “We did have some commitments from other national tenants, but those are not sufficient to make the project happen by themselves.”

Another anchor was expected to be a Kohl's clothing store. Rankin declined to say who the third might be. He said Fletcher Bright is trying to woo another national retailer to take Home Depot's place.

Atlanta-based Home Depot has seen its fortunes sag as the housing crisis has deepened. The company already has a store in nearby Matthews on U.S. 74.

The shopping center's delay is a blow to the city's drive to expand its commercial tax base.

“The city will continue to be supportive of it,” Assistant City Manager Wayne Herron said. “We certainly hate that Home Depot has chosen not to be here at this time.”

The planned shopping center has been controversial because of a dispute over the design of its entrance on U.S. 74.

N.C. Board of Transportation member Tony Dennis of Stanly County had questioned whether the turn lane and stoplight plans the developer wanted did enough to keep traffic moving along the clogged highway in western Monroe.

DOT designers have been looking at “superstreet” designs that allow no left turns. But the developer wanted shoppers to be able to turn left out of the shopping center.

City Attorney Terry Sholar asked the state attorney general's office to investigate whether Dennis and his predecessor, Larry Helms of Indian Trail, had pressured state transportation engineers to reverse earlier indications of approval for a modified superstreet design allowing left turns. Helms had spoken against placing regular traffic signals at the shopping center.

In the end, the dispute turned out to be a misunderstanding, city and state officials said. The city withdrew its complaint to the attorney general.

The project also has ties to some city and state elected officials.

Most of the acreage is owned by Monroe-Independence LLC. The real estate investment firm lists N.C. Sen. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, as a managing member, according to documents on file with the N.C. Secretary of State. Pittenger is running for lieutenant governor.

Monroe City Council member John Ashcraft was the broker for Monroe-Independence LLC. He removed himself from discussions and votes when the council considered the project. Ashcraft also has said he did not take part in planning the project.

The withdrawal of a key tenant leaves the future in doubt for a planned $40 million shopping center on U.S. 74 in western Monroe.

Home Depot, originally expected to be one of three anchor stores, now says it won't build a store at Secrest Place shopping center east of Rocky River Road.

“We re-evaluated the site, and it no longer worked for us, based on the financials behind the deal,” company spokesman Craig Fischel said. “... We're trying to be more strategic about where we open new locations.”

The home improvement store's decision has forced the developer to put the 78-acre shopping center project on hold, said Kirk Rankin, a manager with Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Fletcher Bright Co.

The developer had hoped to break ground this month. The firm learned in May that Home Depot was out, Rankin said.

“We don't have enough (tenants) to fill all the square footage,” Rankin said. “We did have some commitments from other national tenants, but those are not sufficient to make the project happen by themselves.”

Another anchor was expected to be a Kohl's clothing store. Rankin declined to say who the third might be. He said Fletcher Bright is trying to woo another national retailer to take Home Depot's place.

Atlanta-based Home Depot has seen its fortunes sag as the housing crisis has deepened. The company already has a store in nearby Matthews on U.S. 74.

The shopping center's delay is a blow to the city's drive to expand its commercial tax base.

“The city will continue to be supportive of it,” Assistant City Manager Wayne Herron said. “We certainly hate that Home Depot has chosen not to be here at this time.”

The planned shopping center has been controversial because of a dispute over the design of its entrance on U.S. 74.

N.C. Board of Transportation member Tony Dennis of Stanly County had questioned whether the turn lane and stoplight plans the developer wanted did enough to keep traffic moving along the clogged highway in western Monroe.

DOT designers have been looking at “superstreet” designs that allow no left turns. But the developer wanted shoppers to be able to turn left out of the shopping center.

City Attorney Terry Sholar asked the state attorney general's office to investigate whether Dennis and his predecessor, Larry Helms of Indian Trail, had pressured state transportation engineers to reverse earlier indications of approval for a modified superstreet design allowing left turns. Helms had spoken against placing regular traffic signals at the shopping center.

In the end, the dispute turned out to be a misunderstanding, city and state officials said. The city withdrew its complaint to the attorney general.

The project also has ties to some city and state elected officials.

Most of the acreage is owned by Monroe-Independence LLC. The real estate investment firm lists N.C. Sen. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, as a managing member, according to documents on file with the N.C. Secretary of State. Pittenger is running for lieutenant governor.

Monroe City Council member John Ashcraft was the broker for Monroe-Independence LLC. He removed himself from discussions and votes when the council considered the project. Ashcraft also has said he did not take part in planning the project.

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