Benton to Build Utilities to Shops

Benton is dedicating up to $1.4 million from its general fund to extend utilities and infrastructure to an area where a Tennessee developer wants to put a new 160,000-square-foot shopping center.

The $29 million project, Shoppes at Benton, is planned for an area north of the Interstate 30 interchange and west of Alcoa Road and is being developed by GBT Realty Corp. of Brentwood, Tenn. The center will have two main anchors — a soft goods, apparel and home decor store that will use 41,000 square feet and a hobby and craft store that will utilize about 55,000 square feet.

Officials from GBT attending a news conference at Benton’s city offices Tuesday declined to name the two large retail tenants. Clients listed on GBT’s website include Hobby Lobby, Sprouts Farmers Markets, Kohl’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, among others. The Shoppes at Benton also will have a row of four fast-casual sit-down restaurants.

The developer has contracted to buy one parcel from Mike Sylvester and Pat Sylvester and another from Mount Carmel Investment Co. LLC. Both deals are set to close in late March.

Construction is expected to start in the first quarter of next year, and the shopping center is expected to open about a year later. Jeff Pape, managing director of GBT’s shopping center division, said construction should generate 450 to 500 short-term construction jobs. Once it’s open, the center should employ 200-plus full-time workers and more than 300 part-time people.

He said he expects the development to be at least 80 percent leased by the time builders break ground. GBT’s average occupancy upon opening is 94 percent.

“We have several retailers that are confirmed and that we are moving forward with now,” Pape said of the Shoppes at Benton. “We won’t build a bunch of buildings and hope they fill up later.” The group recently finished a project in Louisville, Ky., and one outside Savannah, Ga.

The Benton City Council passed a resolution Monday that laid out plans for the city and the Benton Public Utilities Commission to work with the Benton Investment Partners LLC, which is GBT. The roughly $1.4 million contributed by the city and its separate utilities commission will be in the form of materials and equipment needed to extend water, sewer and electrical services to the site will be made by Rob Martin Electrical, said Mayor David Mattingly.

Those costs, coming from reserves in the city’s general fund, are expected to be made up within the first year to 14 months the shopping center is open, he said. Raising taxes or issuing bonds was not an option, the mayor said, because he was not in favor of “mortgaging the city’s future.”

GBT has developed more than 6 million square feet of retail and commercial space in the past 6-8 years, which have been the most economically challenging for real estate development in recent times. GBT’s projects span 21 states.

The deal was put together by Flake & Kelley Commercial of Little Rock. Flake & Kelley represents one of the two large retailers planned to go in the development. Partner and CEO Hank Kelley said the retailer had been looking in the area of Interstate 30 in Benton for some time and had tried twice before to secure a location.

“Instead of the developer coming in here and trying to figure out what retailers will come, the retailer picks the location and it works right,” Kelley said.