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Economic forecast: Hall retail may rebound
Norton sees shift in loss of shops to neighboring counties
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An erosion of retail dominance in Hall County began with the opening of Gwinnett Place Mall in 1984.
A half-hour drive from Gainesville, the mall was a regional shopping destination for its first 16 years of operation.

The loss of retail sales, according to real estate executive Frank Norton, continued with the opening of North Point Mall and North Georgia Premium Outlets in the early 1990s.

The opening of Mall of Georgia in 1999 further diminished Hall's role as a retail center. Norton said the trend of losing retail to neighboring counties has begun to shift back. He points to the opening of both the Wal-Mart on Mundy Mill Road and the Stonebridge Center on Spout Springs Road as a signal that retail sales are returning to Hall.

"This division of retail is good news as it regains shoppers lost to Gwinnett," Norton said in his annual Native Intelligence report Thursday night. He said sales tax dollars would be returning. He estimated 50 percent of the retail shopping by Hall County residents was being done out of county.

The announcement this week of a major shopping center on Ga. 365, just north of Old Cornelia Highway, could add to the retail resurgence.

Jay Gipson is vice-president of the Atlanta-based Gipson Co., developer of Mountainbrook Farm, the open air marketplace center. "This is an exciting project in an exciting market," Gipson said.

His company is currently developing a 1 million square foot center in Mount Juliet, Tenn., near Nashville.
"It's a suburb of Nashville and it has multiple facets. It has 200 acres with two interstate interchanges and a parkway through the middle," Gipson said.

He said the concept of the open air shopping center has grown in popularity.

"It is popular with retailers. As a developer it allows us to do a higher quality project. Communities are moving away from big boxes in a row. Tenants and communities expect nicer architecture. We typically hold on to these properties, so we have just one chance to do it right."

He said another advantage of the project is flexibility of completion. Unlike a mall, it can be opened in stages.

Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce said the retail project could be the beginning of long-predicted development along the Ga. 365 corridor. "This center has the potential to raise the bar on retail centers in our area," Dunlap said.

The rezoning of the 200 acre site is expected to be submitted by February. The plan must also be reviewed by the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center as a development of regional impact.