Lake District project finally nears construction

After struggling through some development hurdles, the $375 million Lake District mixed-use project in Lakeland is finally moving toward with a likely opening next year.

The design of the project echoes a national trend to add new uses to land formerly occupied by retail-only centers.

California-based Gilad Development Co. recently closed on the balance of the land needed for the 160-acre project, buying several vacant parcels totaling more than 130 acres from Belz Enterprises for $7.1 million.

The developer has owned the project’s other 30-plus acres since 2007 when it purchased the Belz Factory Outlet Mall from Belz for approximately $4 million.

Construction was originally slated to get underway sooner on the four-year buildout, but unforeseen delays with closing on the additional land pushed the timeline back. Now, the first portions of the projects could come online by late next year.

“Retail development is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Shawn Massey, partner with The Shopping Center Group, which is working with the developer on the project. “Purchasing the land last week shows a very strong commitment. Every time we’ve moved along, the developer, Yehuda Nentanel, has doubled down to make this happen."

Site development alone will top $40 million and will take more than a year to complete. The old Belz Factory Outlet Mall on the site has already been torn down.

Related: "Proposed Lake District expected to boost Lakeland economy"

“We have to move more than 1 million cubic yards of dirt. That would be one of the largest dirt projects ever in the Memphis area,” said Massey.

In 2016 the project received a $39 million in Tax Increment Financing from the City of Lakeland, and that money is being used to install infrastructure, allowing retailers and hotels to commit to the project. This year, work is underway to line up major tenants.

“We recently signed letters of intent with Malco Theaters, Gould’s, Osaka Japanese Restaurants, and a few others for the project,” said Massey.

Reworked plans for the development include a six-acre lake and 12-acre park surrounded by two hotels; 14 commercial outparcels; 280 single-family homes; 395 apartments over retail space; 144 age-restricted apartments; 300,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; 65,000 square feet of office space, and a 1,000-seat theater, as well as an outdoor farmer’s market, early childhood learning center, parks, playgrounds, cycling and jogging trails.

“If we had built the shopping center that was originally drawn out in 2014, we would’ve designed a shopping center that was not for the future [by today’s standards],” said Massey.

“The retail market has changed considerably with the type of developments. Lake District will be designed for the future. It’s livable, walkable with lots of places to play."

He cites a continuing trend for urban mixed-use projects in the suburbs in cities in Nashville, Austin, Dallas, Louisville, and Lexington.

Residences will vary from senior assisted living homes to downtown-style lofts, with the majority expected to go up as two-story townhouses averaging 1,600 square feet.

Memphis-based architecture firms A2H Inc. and Looney Ricks Kiss are involved in the project.

Huge drivers for the financial viability of the project include the fact that nearly 1 million people live within a 20-mile radius of the site, and median income tops $98,000 within a five-mile radius.

The project will generate an estimated $5.5 million in property tax and create over 1,000 permanent jobs, according to Gilad Director of Development Maggie Gallagher.

“Our team will be comprised of all local firms outside of our architect in L.A.,” she said.

Years ago, Gilad had planned to only redevelop the 30-acre Factory Outlet Mall site that it bought from Belz in 2005 into a new outlet mall, but that project proved not strong enough to lure national tenants.

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.