CONCORD, NC-Retail development at the the Interstate 85 exit, five miles north of Downtown Charlotte, is on a roll. New and expanding projects envelop the entire axis.

For example, on one side of the interchange is the year-old, 1.2 million-sf Concord Mills, which continues to add retail space. A nearby 300,000 shopping center is expected to have its first tenant early next year.

Market Place, the Mills Corp.’s shopping center across Interstate 85 from the mall, is adding 108,000 sf of retail. Mills bought the land from Tanger Outlet Center Inc. in 1998 for $5 million after Tanger canceled plans for the site.

Across Concord Mills Boulevard, Merchant Resource Realty Inc. is planning a 40,000-sf shopping center. The developer has submitted plans for three buildings. Adding further density to the area, it appears Concord has made a deal for a $40-million, 80,000-sf convention center that will include a 300-room hotel.

Just a few miles from the I-85 interchange, office development is under way. Speedway Motorsports and Trammell Crow Inc. are planning three office buildings totaling 100,000 sf. Construction is scheduled to start on the first building on 37 acres in Mecklenburg County, a site owned by Speedway Motorsports.

In a published report, Bill McCoy, director of University of North Carolina Charlotte’s Urban Institute, thinks the I-85 junction will eventually become a hub of retail and business activity that will rival SouthPark in Charlotte. He predicts about 3 million sf of retail will be open for business within the next five years.

Office and commercial space, convention facilities and housing projects are also planned for the area. In November, a 300-unit apartment complex behind Concord Mills welcomed its first residents. McCoy contends a downside to the development in the area is in the way it is occurring. It’s all over the place, spread out, developing along the lines of a suburban shopping zone. He says this makes it difficult to serve with mass transit, with all destinations remaining dependent on the automobile.

Another drawback, McCoy believes, is that the county will soon have millions of square feet of empty big-box buildings if retail activity should take a dive. If the concept fades, the area will be left with a big hole.

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