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What we think: We will be watching finish of outlet race

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The probability that an outlet mall will be built at Simpsonville now seems to be virtually certain.

There are formal plans to be specified and a lot of concrete to be poured, but the original proposal by the Horizon Group is well down the road to government approval.

Add to that the stretch-run proposal by Trio Properties, and what we appear to be watching is strangely reminiscent of I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister rushing down the stretch, with the only question being which one will cross the finish line first.

And, just like the Kentucky Derby, we doubt there will be a tie.

We simply can’t see these developers – either group – truly wanting to have two outlet malls in Simpsonville. As wonderful as that may seem as a possible boost to the economy in Shelby County and an oasis for the budgets of label-hungry shoppers, we wonder if the greater Louisville tourism corridor is sufficiently wide and well traveled to support more than a dozen acres and 20-odd buildings of destination shopping on its eastern perimeter.

There are exceptions to every rule, but the best successes for outlet centers tend to be adjacent to larger metropolitan areas (Louisville’s Metropolitan Statistical Area ranks 42nd nationally) or significant tourism magnets.

Many of us are familiar with outlet power shopping around the tourism mecca in Orlando, Fla., along the historic corridor of Williamsburg, Va., or closer to home, the mountain-framed strip of U.S. 441 in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

But for every successful mall or development, there are dozens of places that have vacant lots, boarded up windows and the smell of failure in the air.

That’s not to say we would expect either Horizon or Trio to fail in this venture, it’s just that we question how both mutually could succeed, as Trio developer Bill Bardenwerper has suggested.

That Horizon and Trio are in this Derby-esque drive for the finish line, however, is not something that members of either the Triple S Planning Commission or the Simpsonville City Commission can manage.

All any government entity can do is play steward in this dash, to review the plans, to hear requests for zone changes and to process all of this accordingly and fairly. There can be no alignment with or endorsement of either proposal and certainly no preferential treatment of one over the other.

No, ultimately, this rush to market will be decided not by rules and procedures but by which entrant moves not simply the fastest but with the more assured business plan.

It’s a race we will watch not only with binoculars but also a magnifying glass.

Because we want the true winner to be the residents of Shelby County.