VALDOSTA -- Nine new national retailers will soon be coming to Valdosta in Colonial Mall's new 100,000 square foot expansion.

The ambitious $12.5 million investment will create a new Lifestyle Center, adjacent to the current mall. Each of the retailers will have outside entrances in a landscaped area located off the current food court on the Norman Drive side. The expansion will create more than 200 jobs and add an additional $32 million in sales to the economy. Construction is slated to begin after the first of the year, with an anticipated completion of 10 to 14 months.

John Hughey, vice president of development for Colonial Properties, announced the expansion Thursday at the Valdosta City Council meeting as part of the city engineer's presentation concerning the city's plans to create a new mall area storm water detention facility.

Although no retailers were named at the meeting, Hughey assured the Council that he has nine contracts in hand and one or two more pending. All of the retailers are nationally known and none currently have a presence in Valdosta. "We're always looking for good opportunities and retailers are very interested in Valdosta. We have a $35 million investment here already, and it's important we continue to enhance it."

Hughey said the retailers all have stipulations in their contracts which allow each company to make its own announcement concerning their expansion into the market. He said the nine signed so far include four large retailers and several smaller merchants, including at least one restaurant.

In order to help facilitate the expansion and to alleviate a problem which has continued to plague merchants and homeowners across town, the city is moving the Sugar Creek project higher on its list of priorities.

The $1.2 million plan, which the Council members voted unanimously to approve, is part of the city's master drainage plan, passed by the council in 1996. Thursday's vote was to allow City Engineer Von Shipman and his department to proceed with the two-phase project, which includes moving the current detention pond from Colonial Mall's property to land owned by the city behind Target and Home Depot on the other side of Norman Drive.

Hughey announced to the Council Thursday that Colonial Mall is donating an additional 10 acres of land, contiguous to the more than 20 acres already owned by the city, to assist with the construction.

According to Shipman, nearly 5,000 acres of land drains into Sugar Creek, 3,700 acres of which is located in the city, including downtown Valdosta. The project, funded by SPLOST dollars, will allow the creation of a large detention pond, an overflow area, and a dam to help alleviate drainage and flooding problems. A number of neighborhoods currently with drainage issues across much of the city will be impacted by the new facility.

The mall will be able to use the current drainage area for additional parking to help replace some of what will be lost due to the expansion. Much of the dirt displaced when the new detention pond is built will be transported to the mall to be used during the expansion, which Shipman said will save the city money.

Mayor John Fretti said he has seen a list of the new merchants and is very excited about the mall's expansion. "We've been noticing for many years that the mall needs an upgrade and this will bring in nine to 11 opportunities that are not here now. This is a good thing."

Fretti said several recent rain events have underscored the need to move the drainage project higher on the list of priorities for the city, as nearly 25 percent of the city drains into that area. He said the city has been discussing moving the detention pond for 10 years and is glad that the timing could be worked out to coincide with the expansion project.

Colonial Properties has owned the Valdosta mall, built in November 1983, since November 1997. Colonial Mall Valdosta is the top revenue producer for the city, with $100 million annually in gross sales.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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