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EARLIER: Simpsonville officials ‘feel better’ about mall

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Eden, Eaton visit Atlanta to get answers to key issues

By Steve Doyle

SIMPSONVILLE – Simpsonville Mayor Steve Eden and City Administrator David Eaton said they think they have some key answers in what to expect when the Outlet Shoppes of Louisville open next year on the south side of their city.

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Eden and Eaton last week packed into Eaton’s SUV and did a 30-hour round trip to the Outlet Shoppes At Atlanta in Woodstock, Ga., the newest mall constructed by Horizon Group Properties, the developer of the mall being constructed south of Interstate 64 on Buck Creek Road.

They had said they wanted to learn more about three topics that they have heard from the public as being prime concerns: traffic, safety and night pollution. They say they are satisfied with what they learned.

They met with Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques and City Manger Jeffrey Moon and also with Mall Manager Dan Davilla to understand what they experienced when the mall opened in July.

Outlet Shoppes At Atlanta is slightly different than the one planned for Simpsonville, with about the same number of stores (90) but seven buildings vs. nine and more out lots – Eden said the mall was about 99 percent occupied when they toured – and it also has 300 fewer parking spaces.

“Fifty years from now we want to look back at something and say it was done right,” Eden said. “We can live with it.”

A key element of that would be traffic, because residents in and around Simpsonville have said they fear what the congestion of exiting traffic at I-64 would bring to those trying to navigate around the mall and reach their homes.

When the mall opened in Woodstock, about 50 miles north of Atlanta, there was a mile-long backup looking to exit.

“They have one way in and one way out about two hundred feet off the interstate,” Eden said. “We will have two entrances about five hundred and a thousand feet. They have no lights because the state wouldn’t put up lights – even when Horizon agreed to buy them. On opening day, they got overwhelmed.”

Said Eaton: “I feel better about the traffic [plan], but that’s not to say on some days we won’t have issues.”

Eden also said he was excited about what he had seen of the lights and how they were deployed to avoid sky pollution at night. He said he and Eaton hung around until after dark to see the impact, and he produced cell-phone photographs that showed the lights minimally invasive to the night sky, especially compared to nearby highway lights. The lights are the same as those that are planned for Simpsonville.

“About a quarter-mile away, I didn’t see much problem at all,” he said. “And later at night the lights are set to reduce by 30 percent.”

As for security, Eaton said they were surprised pleasantly to see the security force that Horizon employs at the mall. A 15-person staff – many former law enforcement and security personnel – patrol the mall 24 hours a day, seven days a week and work with local law enforcement.

“They try to hire local people, too,” he said.

There were several other key pieces of information Eden and Eaton said they learned from the trip:

  • Woodstock officials and business owners said the mall had been a big boon for the entire economy. “Some of the naysayers say this will kill your downtown,” Eden said. “But they [Woodstock officials] had more people downtown than ever, and the major said it [the mall] had stimulated the entire economy.” They said restaurant employees two miles away told them they had been slammed since the mall opened, and one resident told them that the real estate market was doing well, too.
  • Many consider that the mall will have only low-paying jobs, but Davilla, the mall manager, who has been with Horizon for 30 years, told Eden and Eaton that some of the jobs pay quite well, especially store managers brought in by companies to run their operations. Horizon also held job fairs at a local high school to recruit for many jobs. “They had six thousand show up the first day,” Eden said. “Then a couple of weeks later, they had a second and two thousand more showed up.”
  • They said they were impressed by the interior aspects of the mall – though the corridors were narrower than those planned in Simpsonville – and the landscaping and exterior design. “Horizon is planning more of a Churchill Downs-type design for here,” Eden said. “It won’t be as sort of square as Atlanta.” And although the mall includes an elaborate docking system for deliveries, stores in the mall have taken to renting storage space off-site because they couldn’t keep up with the demand, Eden said.
  • Eden and Eaton said they were impressed, too, to learn about the VIP opening – when Horizon sells tickets and donates the revenue to a local charity – had drawn 50,000 visitors over a 2-day period. The event generated $60,000 in contributions. “But they weren’t prepared for the parking overflow,” Eden said.