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Retail expanding in Albemarle
Proposals could double projections
By DAVID DADURKA  / Daily Progress staff writer December 8, 2003

How much is enough?

It’s a question that has dogged Albemarle County officials this year as they considered the big three of shopping center proposals: Albemarle Place, Hollymead Town Center and North Pointe.

The three mixed-use complexes represent roughly 2 million square feet in new retail space, double the amount the county had projected for the next 10 years, with about 1.3 million square feet already approved.

Albemarle is home to a little more than 4.7 million square feet of retail space - the equivalent of about 28 Lowe’s Home Improvement stores.

If Albemarle supervisors approve North Pointe - the largest of the three projects - some worry that the county will face a glut of retail space, stealing shoppers from existing local stores.

Developers, however, dispute this, saying that Albemarle has been losing shoppers to high-end retailers outside the region. They contend that the county has underestimated the amount of space the market demands.

“The thing that worries me,” Supervisor Sally H. Thomas said, “is not what will happen to the shiny new store, but what will happen to the slightly tired stores in Albemarle and Charlottesville.”

“The most unattractive thing that can happen is to have failed and empty shopping centers,” she added.

Frank D. Cox Jr., Albemarle Place’s master planner, said that when Charlottesville Fashion Square mall was rumored to be looking for a site in the city, “it was feared that Barracks Road [Shopping Center] would fall by the wayside.”

But the shopping center didn’t fold. Instead, its owners made significant investments and attracted high-end clothing stores including Laura Ashley and Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Cox said.

Likewise, he noted, Fashion Square underwent an $8.6 million renovation last year as county officials discussed a Comprehensive Plan amendment that paved the way for Albemarle Place.

North Pointe developer Charles Rotgin Jr. said that Albemarle has reached a point of “built-up demand” for additional retail.

“If you think Albemarle County doesn’t have a need for competitive merchandise, you need to take a trip to Short Pump” Town Center, Rotgin said. “It is clear we are losing a lot of sales to other localities.”

Supervisor Lindsay G. Dorrier Jr. agrees.

“From my conversations with citizens, I hear many are going out of Albemarle County to shop at Tyson’s Corner and Short Pump. They are taking their hard-earned money out of the area,” Dorrier said.

Jeff Werner, land use officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, is skeptical that retail “leakage” is responsible for lower per capita retail sales, compared with other localities.

“I would say it is a result of being a university community,” he said, noting that many college students leave the area during the winter holiday - the busiest shopping season of the year.

Steven A. Allshouse, Albemarle’s fiscal impact planner, notes that his estimate of 1 million square feet of retail space in the next 10 years didn’t include projections for the amount of space retailers could capture by keeping shoppers from leaving the region.

“It is more of an art than a science,” Allshouse said of tracking retail sales leakage.

While fiscal impact studies estimate that North Pointe alone will produce more than $2 million in annual tax revenue, Jack Marshall of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population said the reports don’t account for other, less measurable costs.

“Models of the economic costs and benefits, whether they are retail, commercial or residential, miss a lot of important things and invariably underestimate the costs,” he said. “We are reluctant to put dollars and cents on environmental and quality-of-life costs.”

Contact David Dadurka at (434) 978-7299 or ddadurka@dailyprogress.com.