By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – As the first structure began to take shape this week at the Fremaux Town Center retail shopping site in Slidell, Stirling Properties has confirmed they are already set to begin Phase II as quickly as Phase I is open in the spring of 2014.
Stirling Senior Vice-President of Development Townsend Underhill confirmed that Phase II is now set to begin next spring, shortly after Phase I opens on the 400-acre site between the Old Spanish Trail and Fremaux Avenue exits of Interstate 10.
Underhill said that Stirling is already confirming Phase II due to securing a huge anchor lease from Dillard’s, which has committed to build a 126,000 square-foot department store that will be “a state-of-the-art retail store which will have all the latest and greatest that Dillard’s can offer.”
Dillard’s currently is open at North Shore Square in Slidell and raises the question of whether they will have two locations in Slidell, or leave the original Slidell mall. Officials with NS Square said they could not comment on that issue and officials with Dillard’s did not return phone calls on the matter.
Underhill said this week that Kirkland’s, a home décor store, has signed on as the newest tenant for Phase I, with a 7,000 square foot store. Kirkland’s currently has 320 stores in 34 states.
The Dillard’s and Kirkland’s situations are adding to concerns by city officials about the exact situation they have asked the original developers to avoid—signing businesses that are currently at North Shore Square, that might abandon the first Slidell mall area to relocate at the Town Center.
Underhill assured Slidell City Council officials at one early meeting that their intention is to sign new businesses for the area, however, they could not guarantee businesses from leaving North Shore Square.
So far in Phase I, planned for a 295,000 square foot building, Stirling has secured major anchor stores that feature Kohl’s with a 55,000 square foot site and Dick’s Sporting Goods with a 45,000 square foot facility.
Also leased for Phase I include Michael’s, T.J. Maxx, PetSmart, LongHorn Steakhouse, DressBarn, ULTA Beauty, Lane Bryant, Rack Room Shoes, Best Buy and Versona Accessories.
Along with Dillard’s and Kirklands, Best Buy is also located in the North Shore Square area. Officials with those companies are refusing to comment about whether they will remain in two locations here, or move to the new Town Center site.
Stirling Developments took over the long-awaited construction project in January of this year and has moved full-steam ahead since that time, immediately showing up on the site in March to begin land grading and infrastructure work. The project was announced over four years ago by property owner Robert Levis and Bayer Properties, the developer for the project.
However, Bayer stretched out the start of construction several years, continually blaming a sluggish economy for its inability to sign enough leases to begin the building process. Levis finally grew tired of the delays and inked a deal with Stirling Properties, which got the ball rolling in record time earlier this year.
When Levis first announced the deal in 2008, he envisioned a huge development that included medical buildings, office space, a branch of the University of New Orleans, apartments and more. Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan has steadily backed the project through the delays, seeing the start of construction as a spark to ignite the local economy.
Underhill said that since they began construction, the interest in the area is only growing, which is supporting Drennan’s belief that the Fremaux Town Center will bring other new businesses to this area.
“Things have been very good from the start and it appears they are only getting better now that we are seeing the building ready to go up,” he said.
Underhill said Phase II is planned to be bigger than Phase I, with an expected total square footage of 325,000, thanks in part to the huge Dillard’s building that will take up over a third of it.