Decatur retail project would dwarf Bridge Street; early speculation on Bass Pro Shops

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An unidentified developer is proposing to build a $1.3 billion retail project in the southwest corner of the Interstate 65/565 junction. (Huntsville Times file photo)

DECATUR, Alabama – A proposed retail development at the Interstate 65/565 junction in Decatur would be more than twice the size of Huntsville’s Bridge Street Town Centre.

The Decatur City Council voted Monday night to let Mayor Don Kyle continue negotiations with a developer who, according to a resolution, wants to build 1.35 million square feet of retail space on the sprawling property near the Tennessee River.

For comparison, Bridge Street and Madison Square Mall have about 550,000 and 1 million square feet of retail space, respectively. Riverchase Galleria in Hoover is about 1.5 million square feet.

Decatur officials have declined to identify the developer or name specific stores that might become part of the project. But because of the history of the property, early speculation has centered on Bass Pro Shops.

The Missouri-based retailer of hunting, fishing and other outdoor gear is familiar with the Decatur site, having announced plans in early 2008 to build a large Bass Pro Outdoor World store there. It was to anchor a 540-acre mixed-use development called Sweetwater featuring multiple shops and restaurants, offices, medical space, residences and a hotel.

But the Nashville-based developer, Genesis USA, put Sweetwater on hold when the recession hit, and nothing was ever built.

Bass Pro Shops has three Alabama stores – in Prattville, Spanish Fort and the Birmingham suburb of Leeds.

Company spokeswoman Katie A. Mitchell said she’s not heard any recent discussion about Bass Pro Shops building in Decatur.

“We’re looking at places across the U.S. all the time, so anything is possible,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “But it’s not come across my desk. I’ve not heard it mentioned, not heard it talked about.”

Scott McLain, a commercial developer from Huntsville, expressed skepticism about the projected $1.3 billion cost for the Decatur retail project. At 1.35 million square feet, that works out to $962 a square foot.

“I can’t think of any structure based in Alabama that’s cost that much,” McLain said Tuesday. “It would have to be gold plated. If you do the math, the numbers just don’t work.”

Projections of 4,000 jobs also seem high for even a large retail project, said McLain, and the lack of homes near the I-65/565 junction “will create some challenges for the types of retailers that would be interested.”

Although the site is in Decatur, most of the city’s population lives at least 4 miles away on the other side of the Tennessee River. It’s about 8 miles from the west side of the city of Madison and 18 miles from downtown Huntsville.

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