Can retail be rescued? Why so many U.S. stores are closing
Plans to redevelop a mostly empty and deteriorating shopping center in southwest Macon were approved Monday by the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission.
When Westgate Shopping Center first opened in 1961 at 2525 Pio Nono Avenue, it was the best and latest in retail. Thirty stores under one roof made up Georgia’s first air-conditioned indoor mall.
Westgate prospered for more than a decade, but steadily declined after the Macon Mall opened up just two miles away on U.S. 80.
In 1995, Westgate property managers decided to change the name to Westgate Outlet World and reconfigured the building into more of a strip mall.
Today, roughly 86% of the 411,195 square feet of floor space there is unoccupied. The Taiwan Restaurant, Shoe Show, Dollar World, United Tax Service and Le Nails are among the few tenants left.
Ultimate Realty LLC, based in New York City, requested to allow for light industrial use, office space, warehouse space and retail “to serve the growing need of distribution centers,” according to the company’s application to the planning and zoning board.
The property, owned by The Shoppes International Place LLC, based in Gwinnett County, is in Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Virgil Watkins’s district.
“Overall I think it’s great,” Watkins said in a message to The Telegraph on Tuesday. The developer “has some great innovative ideas for development that I support.”
In a letter of support to Ultimate Realty in late June, Watkins wrote that the property is “a key focal point of Macon and we look forward to seeing it become alive once again.”
The developer plans to add greenery and fencing to the rear of the property, something Watkins said is “welcomed by the immediate neighbors.”
Light manufacturing, not large-scale distribution, is one vision the developer has for the property, according to undated handwritten notes from a meeting with the planning and zoning board.
Next steps for the developer include getting green lights from the Macon Water Authority, fire department, the county engineer, traffic engineer and the health department.