CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

February 10, 2014

City pledges infrastructure support for Cullman Shopping Center

By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — With a full scale renovation and expansion of Cullman Shopping Center in the works, city officials have pledged to help with infrastructure needs for the $20 million retail project when it ramps up later this year.

Merchants Retail Partners, under the limited liability company MRP Cullman, purchased the shopping center from the Morgan family in an approximate $10 million deal. The project marks the city’s first-ever foray into a retail tax-sharing agreement as part of the recruitment incentive package.

Company officials say a formal announcement regarding potential tennants could be made within two months.

In an effort to assist with that process, the council approved a resolution of support for the project, noting the city would provide horizontal infrastructure improvements, utility upgrades and public safety improvements based on the number of jobs created, businesses retained and overall investment in the community. The city also pledged to create a program of assistance to help address infrastructure needs, which will be introduced and approved at a later date.

Council member Clint Hollingsworth said the project will be one of the biggest retail expansions in recent memory, and should bring several new shopping options to the city.

“We’re excited about the potential to come for existing tennants with the renovations, and believe the new additions will be a real shot in the arm,” he said. “I think the community will be very excited, because its a lot of things people have been asking for, and at this point, some of the community is even expecting these things to happen as we grow. Obviously, we’ll do what we need to do as far as infrastructure needs, and we’re excited to see what’s to come.”

Though the letter of support for the project was passed with a majority, there was one dissenting vote from city council member Johnny Cook. Cook said he is in favor of retail expansion, but noted he has some more specific issues with the letter of support.

“It’s just that I’m not in support of all the contents of the letter,” he said.

He declined to elaborate further.

MRP Cullman plans to fully renovate and restore the existing retail space, then expand the development with new construction on the back side behind the vacant Food World location. Merchants Retail Partners is also reportedly eyeing some new, outparcel restaurants as part of the project.

Cullman Mayor Max Townson noted the expansion should help the aesthetics of the decades-old development, while also clearing some “blighted buildings” nearby to make room for new tennants.

The U.S. Highway 31 development is currently anchored by major tenants Belk, JC Penney and Books-A-Million. The company is also working to attract a new, high-end grocer to replace the recently-shuttered Food World.

According to Cullman Economic Development Agency statistics, the project could create approximately 600 full- and part-time jobs.

Merchants Retail Partners has opened several large-scale developments across the southeast, including the Tiger Town retail development in Opelika. Tiger Town is anchored by big box tenants such as Bed Bath and Beyond, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and Target.

Under the tax-sharing deal, businesses in the development will still pay sales tax, though the city will pay back some of those funds for a set period of time. The deal only affects city sales tax (1.75 percent) and does not include education taxes.

Current estimates show those amounts would total approximately $276,000 paid back in existing half-sales tax the first three years, with as much as $800,000 produced (and split) in the subsequent seven years from new development. But, if the project does not happen, MRP Cullman receives nothing.

As part of the city’s 10-year tax-sharing agreement MRP will also be obligated to invest at least another $10 million to expand and add new, national retail tenants and restaurants.

City officials say the deal could promote local economic and industrial development, increase employment and increase the tax base by retaining existing retail and attracting new businesses.



* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134