Jackson County

'Mall development is tricky' says man with plan for Singing River Mall

 Grass grows in the empty parking lot at Singing River Mall in Gautier.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Grass grows in the empty parking lot at Singing River Mall in Gautier. SUN HERALD

GAUTIER -- The last time they mowed the parking lot and medians, it cost Singing River Mall's developers $6,200.

Melton Redding with Morrison USA, one of the partners in the project, came before the City Council this week to let the members know his company is still committed to developing the mall site.

They're keeping up the parking lot and lighting with Belk, the lone survivor of the mall demolition. Belk is still bringing in the customers, despite the changes all around it.

Old signs still mark the outskirts of the 60-acre lot, reminiscent of the days when a rambling indoor mall housed Sears and JC Penney. Belk was an anchor store too, but it owned its own building and chose to stay.

"Everyone here is anxious for you to do something with the mall site," City Councilman Hurley Ray Guillotte told Redding. "Our Town Center depends on it."

The acreage takes up the southeastern quadrant of a Town Center that is mostly on paper.

Urged to give a timeline, Redding reluctantly said, "We bought it in 2010 and hoped to be done by 2013. Our hope now is to have it started by the end of 2017, to rebuild."

A bright spot: They have a contract on a tenant for an outbuilding. That would be a business that would locate separate from any main structure.

"Mall redevelopment is tricky," Redding told the council. First, they couldn't keep tenants and rebuild at the same time. And then, they had to tear down what was there to attract new prospects. The mall had been mostly vacant for years and was becoming a safety hazard, he said.

He assured the council "we have a significant investment in this . Just because nothing is happening today, doesn't mean nothing will ever happen."

He said this is his 91st shopping center and he has 30 years in the redevelopment business.

"We have confidence we can still do it," he told the board. "We believe in the market; we believe in Gautier.

"We're carrying capital to finish what we're doing."

And in the meantime, there are annual trips to Las Vegas to keep tenant interest alive, and they're working deals in several areas.

They bought the mall for $6 million.

In all, it costs the redevelopment company $48,000 a month to keep up the property, pay the interest on the loan and pay taxes, he said.

After the meeting, Mayor Gordon Gollott told the Sun Herald, "I have complete confidence in them. I believe they will come through."

He pointed out it was the previous city administration, not the developer, that announced a super Wal-Mart was coming to the site.

He said the city made a separate development agreement with the retail giant several years ago, but it was an agreement Wall-Mart never signed.

There had been a big hoopla about Wal-Mart coming in, part of the reason the city is reluctant to make announcements.

"It was all verbal," Gollott said. "That's my understanding."