Fremaux Town Center, the sprawling retail development on Slidell’s south side, marked another milestone in its multiple-phase development last week: the opening of a $3.5 million connector road that links Old Spanish Trail to Fremaux Avenue and opens up another 200 acres to development.
Plans for the new area include two hotels, office space, additional retail development and high-end single-family homes, Townsend Underhill, vice president of development for Stirling Properties, said.
The road, which was finished ahead of schedule by contractor Omni Pinnacle, opened to traffic Thursday after a ribbon-cutting that drew local, state and parish officials as well as business leaders.
The state-funded Town Center Parkway, which is less than a mile in length with a roundabout, provides a north-south thoroughfare for Slidell, linking La. 433 and U.S. 190 Business, both Interstate 10 interchanges.
Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan said the new connector provides a needed addition to the city’s traffic infrastructure as well as an economic boost.
The new road also gives motorists a close-up view of the rapidly growing second phase of the shopping center, anchored by a 128,000-square-foot Dillard’s department store. That phase is projected to open Oct. 15, according to Underhill.
The second phase has a total of 285,000 square feet of retail space and is 70 percent leased, he said. Other tenants will include Red Robin, Pier 1 Imports, Forever 21 Red and Victoria’s Secret.
A 296-unit gated apartment complex, the Springs at Fremaux Town Center, is also slated for a fall opening.
Meanwhile, the development’s first phase, which opened in March 2014, is performing well, Underhill said. With the exception of Anna’s Linens, which is closing because of a corporate bankruptcy, the first phase is completely leased, he said, showing strong demand.
But as Fremaux Town Center looks ahead to its second phase and beyond, the owner of the rival North Shore Square on the other side of town is working on plans to transform Slidell’s longtime hub of retail activity from a traditional covered mall to a center that is more open, with a mixture of retail and restaurants — more like its newer competitor.
John Talano, vice president of Morguard Management Co. Inc., said the company probably won’t break ground on any new construction at the 400,000-square-foot North Shore Square until mid-2016.
But Morguard envisions a shopping center that likely will retain some covered area but will otherwise be more open, with hotels and restaurants as well as retail space.
Traditional malls have fallen out of favor, and they are more expensive to operate, Talano said.
North Shore Square’s prospects have improved since the Slidell City Council created an economic development district for the mall late last year, he said. That change made it possible for the shopping center to levy an additional half-cent sales tax to be used for improvements and enhancements within its boundaries.
The city has used similar tax increment financing, or TIF, before, most notably for Fremaux Town Center.
The additional tax went into effect at North Shore Square in April, boosting the tax rate from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.
The TIF leveled a retail playing field that Talano said had favored Fremaux Town Center. Incentives that the new shopping center could offer drew retailers away from locations all over Slidell, he said, not just from North Shore Square.
Now, he said, Morguard is having more success getting and keeping tenants. JCPenney just signed a long-term contract to stay at North Shore Square, and Morguard is in talks with a prospective anchor tenant to take the space formerly occupied by Sears, which closed its store in the mall last year.
Dillard’s has been a big question mark for the older mall. The retailer has two locations in North Shore Square — one of them a former Maison Blanche store — and it owns those spaces, not Morguard. For that reason, the Dillard’s stores are not part of the TIF.
With a new Dillard’s about to open at Fremaux Town Center, speculation had been rampant that North Shore Square would lose yet another anchor. But according to Talano, Dillard’s plans to keep one of the older stores open, in the space that now houses its men’s and children’s departments.
Drennan said the chain is considering making that location an outlet store, something Talano confirmed.
The mayor, who is fond of calling the new retail development a “city within a city,” has predicted that Fremaux Town Center will be a jobs-generator as well as a boost to city sales tax collections.
City officials attributed Slidell’s growth in sales tax revenue for the last fiscal year mainly to the opening of the new center.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.