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ATLANTA-Even though they haven’t asked him, Caldwell Zimmerman, executive vice president of locally based Colliers Cauble Co. in Atlanta, thinks he has found a better site for a $200-million, 1.5-million-sf open-air shopping center planned near suburban McDonough by three of the biggest retail developers in the US.

Zimmerman, who represents retired Henry County physician Yee Chen and his 165 acres, already has made a formal presentation to Henry County government leaders and about 15 landowners. The presentation maintains a mall at the Jodeco Road-Interstate 75 location could trigger 1,000 acres of new office, retail and residential development near three interchanges.

The preliminary estimated build-out value of those projects could reach $100 million, government leaders were told. The county itself has seven interchanges. The Jodeco-I-75 site would touch three of them.

The Zimmerman-Lee master plan sees Jodeco Road at Interstate 75, five miles north of the previously announced GA 20 site, as the best location for the mega venture planned by locally based Cousins Properties Inc., Simon Property Group of Indianapolis and North American Properties of Cincinnati.

“There is a million sf of retail already in place that would back up to the [proposed] mall,” Zimmerman tells GlobeSt.com. “Major retail tenants normally make [location] commitments for 20 years or more so they are the key” to proving the Jodeco-I-75 site is “the most advantageous for them and the community as a whole.”

Unannounced, Cousins took a four-year option in 2000 to buy Chen’s 165 acres at about $200,000 per acre or a total $33 million, area land brokers in a position to know tell GlobeSt.com. Cousins’ option expires in January, brokers say. The REIT is paying Chen about $1 million a year for the option, brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

“The developers may be hedging their bets,” an industrial broker at one of the area’s larger real estate companies not associated with the land deal or the shopping center enterprise, tells GlobeSt.com. “That tells you they are monitoring the alternate development site, even though they cannot say so publicly at this time.” Adds Zimmerman: “They [the developers] right now control both sites.”

Representatives of the three developers couldn’t be reached by GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline. But sources intimate with the developers’ original plans say the developers are not wavering from their original GA 20 development site selection at this time.

“Normally, developers go where the retailers want to be,” Zimmerman says. “Here we have a situation where the retailers already have made their decision and are already in place” at the Jodeco-I-75 location. “The retailers will be the driving force” behind a site selection, the broker says.

About 15 individual landowners also have to be convinced. “There is constructive engagement going on right now with the county and the landowners,” says Caldwell, indicating the Jodeco-I-75 site is getting serious high-level consideration.

The Cousins-Simon-North American mixed-used venture is called South Point and will also encompass 500,000 sf of office and 1,000 apartments or townhomes. The developers maintain their 92-acre site remains the most strategic location for their future plans which takes in Henry County’s growing population of residents and new businesses.

Henry County currently has a permanent resident population of 156,000, according to the US Census Bureau. The bureau ranks Henry County as the sixth-fastest growing county in the US. The developers project the county and surrounding south Atlanta rural areas will double their population base over the next five to 10 years, brokers who talk regularly with the developers tell GlobeSt.com.

The South Point site in McDonough is west of Interstate 75, between GA 20 and GA 81, eight miles east of the Atlanta Motor Speedway. South Point will also be 17 miles north of the one-million-sf Southlake Mall, owned by Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc. in Morow, Clayton County.

South Point developers plan to break ground by first quarter 2005 on the undertaking’s first phase, even though a major anchor hasn’t been signed yet to a long-term lease. The property’s tentative pre-leasing level or early commitments by tenants also haven’t been announced.

Most mega projects such as South Point frequently don’t break ground until the actual leasing level has reached at least 50%, according to retail brokers familiar with comparable projects. The mall would take two years to construct.

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