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Lakeshore Mall upgrade aims to lure upscale stores, more shoppers
Derek Bradley, store manager of LensCrafters in Lakeshore Mall, finishes a display Friday in the larger renovated store. LensCrafters is one of the current businesses at the mall moving into a larger space. - photo by Tom Reed

The completed renovation of Gainesville’s Lakeshore Mall, expected in 2015, could boost local tax revenues two ways: Through up to 50 percent more in stores’ property taxes, along with more sales taxes spent by shoppers.

“The mall has struggled,” Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann said. “We want to people to stay in Gainesville and Hall County when they shop.”

Lakeshore has been the city’s largest retail center for more than half a century, but it was identified in the Gainesville 2030 Comprehensive Plan as one of the areas in the city most in need for redevelopment.

Phase I of that project is nearing completion: The mall has advertised a reopening celebration for Dec. 15.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell said retail in Gainesville area has lost ground to competitors in Dawson County.

“We’re in a doughnut hole, and hopefully this will make us more competitive,” Bell said.

Lakeshore’s owner, Garrison Investment Group, plans to invest more than $20 million to redevelop the mall. Gainesville City Council has moved ahead on the investment group’s request to make the 50-acre property a tax allocation district.

If the mall becomes a TAD, the district could raise about $2.2 million in public funding to help finance infrastructure around it, including streetscaping, landscaping and signage. City Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the TAD on Dec. 18.

The 2012 appraised value, or fair market value, of the property, which is being appealed, is about $16 million. That generates a $187,433 in city, county, city school district and fire taxes that serves as a base for the TAD.

“The process of renovating and redeveloping will lead to a significant increase in the value of the mall and generate additional sales tax revenue,” said Ken Bleakly, president of the Bleakly Advisory Group.

The redevelopment plan, detailed in a report by the Atlanta-based advisory group, estimates $29.3 million of market value to be created when the project is completed. That could mean $257,796 in new property taxes a year.

The renovation is designed to help the mall draw more shoppers by attracting more desirable retailers. One retailer, Dick’s Sporting Goods, already has signed on as a new anchor tenant.

Phase I of the plan included moving small tenants to one side of the mall to allow for the demolition and reconstruction of the J.C. Penney store. Most small tenants have already moved, said Kirsten Boettcher, Lakeland Mall marketing manager.

The Great American Cookies shop is expected to move to its new location next week and Kay Jewelry is scheduled to move early next year. Walls have been built in J.C. Penney and Sears. Shoppers inside the center will have access to J.C. Penney, but will have to go outside to enter Sears.

Resident who shop locally help reduce their property taxes because of the local option sales tax, Wangemann said. It helps everyone who lives in the area.

“However small that decrease might be, it all adds up,” he said.

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