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December 27, 2013

2013 year in review - No. 5: City agrees to $6 million tax sharing for retail project

CULLMAN — Editor’s Note: City of Cullman officials entered into a new era of economic growth with a deal to give Cullman Shopping Center new life.

A $10 million deal to renovate and expand the Cullman Shopping Center was announced in 2013, along with the city’s first-ever tax sharing agreement to make the project a reality.

Delaware-based Merchants Retail Partners, under the limited liability company MRP Cullman, recently purchased the shopping center from the Morgan family in an approximate $10 million deal. The terms of the agreement reportedly include the purchase of the development, paying off existing creditors and tackling some deferred maintenance to immediately improve the function and look of the facility.

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

The U.S. Highway 31 development is currently anchored by major tenants Belk, JC Penney, Books-A-Million and the recently-shuttered Food World.

Developer Bill Leitner, a Birmingham native handing the deal from MRP’s Birmingham office, said his company has a handful of national tenants in talks for the development, with some already locked in to lease agreements. He would not disclose any potential companies due to pending confidentiality agreements. According to Cullman Economic Development Agency statistics, the project could create approximately 600 full- and part-time jobs.

“We’re working with three-to-six national anchor tenants and our vision for Cullman Shopping Center is to do a comprehensive redevelopment of the center and give it a new look and feel,” Leitner told The Times in a previous interview. “Our vision is for this development to anchor downtown and the north-of-downtown corridor. We’re bringing forth a broadened merchandise mix, and that’s a key component.”

CEDA retail recruiter Susie Hood Ashley said the project could play a key role in keeping downtown alive by revitalizing the almost-50-year-old development.

“I’m very pleased that he decided to redevelop the existing center, as opposed to building a new center that would essentially strip the tenants and potentially leave a huge eyesore in our downtown we’ve worked so hard to revitalize,” she said. “This will keep the synergy moving and I think this will be a very integral part of trying to pull some life back towards the center of town.”

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.

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