Retail development is poised for another surge as inquiries for available space are flooding into the city’s economic development office.
The last half of this year has been similar to 2015 when the area saw numerous announcements of retail stores and restaurants move in, including Publix, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ulta. Much of 2016 has been new restaurants, including Panda Express which opened this weekend along Alabama 157’s booming retail scene.
“It started with Wal-Mart along 157 for jumpstarting that area,” said Susan Eller of the Cullman Economic Development Agency. “We’re getting so many inquiries, especially since August this year. There’s a lot of interest in the Kmart building, which is 100,000 square feet, and it’s on a national level.”
Under privacy agreements the economic development team maintains, there is no indication of which companies are looking at Cullman beyond what has been announced in the last quarter of the year. Drinkard Development reported Ashley Furniture is planning to open early next year, while Harbor Freight Tools is also coming in late January.
“You can’t say what will or will not come, but the tone is a lot like 2015 when we saw so many stores open in Cullman Shopping Center as well as other areas of the city,” Eller said. “We keep data on the available buildings and land to share.”
The city also entered into an agreement earlier with Retail Strategies in April. The company attends numerous trade shows through the International Shopping Center Association and provides information on Cullman and learns what potential clients are seeking.
“I think we’re going to continue to see more variety come to the area for shopping. We have several reports showing where some people are still driving out of town to get certain things, and reports showing what people want and what is needed,” Eller said.
She also noted that downtown Cullman is drawing interest from a wide range of investors. While there is not a lot of room available, the areas that are open may be filling up soon, too.
“I just finished watching a program on cool streets, and that’s something Cullman has and it draws young people,” Eller said. “The downtown, everybody feels, is the heart and soul of the city and it draws interest from investors who are looking for that kind of setting. While there are fewer spaces, we have seen what can be done with older buildings and even the newer ones that blend in downtown.”
Retail growth has been or a surge since the year after a tornado tore through Cullman in 2011. The sales tax growth is expected to continue for the area as a more diverse retail environment develops.
“We all want to see the sales tax growth because so much is tied to it. It helps our schools and enables us to deliver more and improved services to the citizens. We’re also getting job growth from this. While it’s a mix of full-time and part-time jobs, it opens up new opportunities, especially for young people in school or those needing to be in the work force for additional income,” she said.
David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, ext. 116.