August 03, 2015

Carriage Crossing on Track

By Tom Bailey, Jr.
– The Commercial Appeal –

Generators whir.

Heavy equipment backs up with the “beep-beep-beep” if alert horns.

All-terrain forklifts carry red brick everywhere.

Nearly a year since groundbreaking, The Avenue Carriage Crossing has taken form.

Steve Yenser and Lou Conti of the Atlanta based developer Cousins Properties stand atop a dirt mound in the heart of what they call a “regional open-air specialty shopping center.”

They point out places from the intersection of two wide “avenues,” now rutted soil.

The streets eventually will be lined with about 80 stores in the atmosphere of a Rockwellian downtown: big trees, shrubs, plants, 18 foot wide sidewalks, brick pavers, antique light fixtures, three-tiered fountains.

At the ends of the street to the east and west loom two huge department stores: Parisian and Dillard’s.

In the distance to the south will be a third anchor store or perhaps a hotel.

And to the north, the buildings lining the street frame a view of the Bill Morris Parkway Bridge over Houston Levee.

It’ll be like six of Germantown’s Saddle Creek lifestyle centers surrounded by big department stores.

Construction of The Avenue Carriage Crossing is on schedule for an Oct. 19 grand opening, said Yenser, Cousin’s chief of operations, and Conti, vice president of development.

A similar Development, Southaven Towne Center, is also scheduled to open later this year at Interstate 55 between Goodman and Church roads.

At Carriage Crossing, nearly 700,000 square feet of stores and restaurants are framed, and craftsmen are bricking up the simulated downtown in southwestern Collierville.

The first of the 1,500 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 40,000 potted plants have been trucked in and queued up for planting.

A crush of even more work and workers is about to descend. Within weeks, contractors for the first 60 stores will swoop in to prepare their spaces, swelling the workforce to about 300, Conti said.

The Atlanta-based developer is building the shopping center with Jim Wilson & Associates of Montgomery, Ala.

About 80 percent of the first phase, 696,000 square feet, has tenants, Yenser said.

Willow oaks, magnolias, crape myrtles, red maples, loblobby pines and $1.5 million worth of other landscaping will cast the storefronts in shade and instant beauty.

Lush landscaping, sculptures and distinctive architecture are elements that help make open air specialty centers upscale.

“Trees will be 18 feet tall on Day 1,” Conti said.

With 3,600 parking spaces on the 90-acre center, about 8,000 shoppers could potentially swarm the place at one time.

The developers are unabashed in describing how elite those shoppers will be. One marketing flier describes consumer lifestyle characteristics of the primary trade area surrounding the center. The sheet identifies the “upward bound/upper class” as taking up 24 percent of the households, the “country squire/upper class” as 21 percent, and the “blue blood estates/upper scale” as 13 percent. The ethnic diversity is “mostly Caucasian,” the education level is heavily college and post graduate, and the employment is heavily professional.

The roster of shops doesn’t include many local, independent businesses yet. But now that local businessmen can see the place and better envision what it’s going to be like, Yenser predicts that more will sign on.