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TUSCALOOSA, AL-Two former Dallas Cowboys’ stars and their development partners today will break ground on the $120-million Midtown mixed-use project. The long-awaited 35-acre plan not only is well-known in retail circles, but it’s hyped as one of the best regional sites in the state.

Though the city’s rich in football history, it’s the award-winning developer Robert Shaw, president and CEO of Dallas-based Columbus Realty Partners, who was raised in Tuscaloosa and a leading force in picking up the development play from local resident, Stan Pate of Pate Holdings, after he courted retailers for several years running. Today’s christening team will include Roger Staubach, president of Dallas-based Staubach Co.; Lee Roy Jordan, a former linebacker and now president and CEO of Lee Roy Jordan Redwood Lumber Co., also in Dallas; Chris Maguire, president and CEO of Cypress Equities, and Scott Harrington, managing partner for the Southeast region. The all-stars are flipping the switch to start bricks-and-mortar work on 350,000 sf of retail and entertainment space, 35,000 sf of office and 224 condos. The project should be going vertical within 45 days.

Midtown is starting with one retail anchor, Barnes & Noble, nearly 95,000 sf of leases under negotiation and 134 condo sales, Ellen Warren Grisette, Midtown’s development coordinator for Cypress Equities’ Atlanta office, tells GlobeSt.com. The development site is two miles east of the University of Alabama and the Downtown, where more than $100 million of other development is planned or under way after leaders lobbed a hard campaign for three years to revitalize the city’s core.

The new Midtown team tweaked Pate’s plan after buying his 35-acre assembly in September 2005 and keeping him on as a partner. Grisette says specialty retail instead of traditional big box will be lining the McFarland Boulevard land, situated across the street from University Mall. “Every retailer in the country knows where this site is,” Grisette says, crediting Pate’s years of marketing. “It’s the premier location in Tuscaloosa.”

In a five-mile trade area, there are 100,000 residents, who now drive nearly 60 miles to shop in Birmingham. There are another 250,000 residents in cities to the west plus the university is in the midst of a one-year enrollment drive to add 10,000 students to its current 28,000 head count. “Tuscaloosa is really under-served,” Grisette says, adding several popular restaurateurs from Birmingham are eyeing Midtown for second locations.

Midtown’s condos–one, two and three bedrooms ranging from 733 sf to 1,336 sf–will be ready to occupy in late summer, just in time for the university’s fall semester. The retail and entertainment space will deliver in fall 2007. CMH Architects Inc. from Birmingham designed Midtown; Hoar Construction Co., also from Birmingham, is building it.

Cypress’ leasing director Chad Atwood and the Retail Specialists, another Birmingham firm, are preleasing the retail while Advantage Realty Co. of Tuscaloosa is in charge of condo sales.

“There is a lot of potential for redevelopment,” says Glenda Gamble, attorney for City of Tuscaloosa, who’s leading an inner-city revitalization drive for 16 blocks, which includes the development site for a 130,000-sf federal courthouse. Local leaders are planning an urban park lined by retail, an estimated $80-million undertaking. Just blocks away, two condo developers are starting to go vertical on their projects.

As the myriad projects take shape, Gamble says city leaders were scheduled to turn over two blocks Monday to the feds for the courthouse project, but they’ve gotten an extension until April 2007. She says condemnation hearings, with one yet to go, delayed the site work and hand-off. What is on schedule is a plan to build a hotel on seven acres near the convention center, with RFPs already out in the market.

The urban park is envisioned as the city’s new centerpiece along University Boulevard. “We’ve seen a large push for redevelopment beside the park by the private sector,” Gamble says. And, that’s with a ground-breaking date still a long way off.

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