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FORT BLISS, TX-After three years of planning, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service and ServiceStar Development Co. are ready to begin construction on the 455,875-square-foot Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss. The $100 million, 52-acre project will be the first on-base retail project under development.

Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss is scheduled for completion by late 2010. The project is being anchored by the Post Exchange, an on-installation department store measuring 217,420 square feet and Fort Bliss’ grocery store, the Commissary, which measures 111,180 square feet. Also on tap is a 10-screen, privately operated movie theater. David Hicks & Lampert Brokerage LLC is handling leasing, White Construction Co. is the contractor and Good Fulton & Farrell is the designer.

AAFES vice president Joe Giuffreda and Mark DeRose, ServiceStar Development CEO tell GlobeSt.com that one of the unique appeals of the project is the anchors, which are under AAFES’ auspices. “To have these existing anchors, which are each doing $50 million in sales now and projected to do $90 million became a great fact to build off of,” DeRose comments. “These are historically successful anchors. There are no credit issues, no issues in terms of where they’ll be 10 years from now.” Adds Giuffreda: “AAFES is 114 years old this month. We aren’t going anywhere.”

As a result, DeRose continues, tenant selection is being centered around the anchors. Restaurants, junior anchors cosmetic and apparel stores are welcome. Furthermore, it is hoped that Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss can eventually become a gathering place for the community. “It’ll be more than simply a jewelry store and a sports store,” DeRose remarks. “We want seasonal gatherings, activities and other functions to bring the population there.”

Giuffreda says the reason the project got off the ground in the first place is because it was a somewhat out-of-the-box idea that had never been tried before. AAFES, he explains, is geared toward taking care of soldiers and their families through the goods, services and food they need for a positive quality of life. “We saw this as a good way to support quality of life,” Giuffreda explains.

Plus the demographics support the concept of an on-base retail development. It’s anticipated that Fort Bliss’ daytime population will reach near 50,000 by 2012. Meanwhile, the Fort Bliss community itself has more than 118,000 active military, retirees and families.

Giuffreda dubs Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss a test program, or pilot program, explaining that others are in the works. A developer has just been hired to begin a similar project at Fort Lewis in Washington State, while developer selection is underway for yet another one at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX.

“I’d say they’re a couple of years behind Fort Bliss,” he adds. “We have enough time to understand and react to lessons learned here.”

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