Excitement building over two shopping developments in Riverside Landing

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 8:00am

Denham Springs is getting ready to annex 18 acres of swampland. The newest addition to the city could become the big shopping mall people there have been waiting for.

"I usually have to go to all the way to Baton Rouge, to the mall, or depends on where I'm wanting to go. But usually, not here," said Denham Springs resident Chelsea Whittington.

That could change by next summer. BBI Architects is developing two tracts of land at Riverside Landing, which is southeast of Interstate 12 and Range Avenue.

The first project, which is called The Shoppes at Riverside Landing, will be built in two phases. The first will be complete in spring of 2014, with the second to be finished later that year.

Construction on the second project, called The Springs at Riverside Landing, is likely to finish in the summer of 2015.

The Springs will be built on 17.8 acres of swampland. The property is currently owned by several individuals. All of them submitted paperwork to the city of Denham Springs to be annexed into the city limits. Once the annexation process is complete, Denham Springs can create an economic development district to facilitate the two shopping centers' construction.

"And there's gonna be just a very good mix of tenants in there, from the national, local, and regional," promised Brent Bueche, president of BBI.

Bueche was first tasked with drawing a master plan for the entire complex, which already features Bass Pro Shops, Sam's Club, and a handful of small businesses. He then became its lead developer, and is in the process of completing what he envisions as a 1.2 million square foot destination.

"Shopping, dining, entertainment. There's going to be a bunch of different facilities out there that will satisfy everyone," he stated.

Livingston Parish has heard that before. Juban Crossing was supposed to open in 2012, but money issues have kept it from breaking ground. Bueche said Tuesday he wants to see both projects take shape, because they could help each other.

"Let's say that Juban were to happen, and our development happens, you start to draw a bigger and bigger circle of people, and then there's enough to go around," he claimed.

That's what businesses nearby want to hear.

"It'd bring a lot more people in, different kinds of people," said Whittington, who works at VooDoo BBQ across the street. "Hopefully they like barbecue!"

Residents of Livingston Parish want a shopping mall to be built so they do not have to travel to Baton Rouge or Hammond to buy the things they need. The Springs will contain two big box stores, an upscale grocery store, and several other retailers and restaurants. Whittington said she would like to see an electronics store move in, but she is not alone in sharing her opinion.

"Yeah, everybody wants to see all sorts of things," Bueche joked.

He could not identify any companies that would open locations at The Springs, but he said there is a high demand from businesses, including at least four national restaurant chains he is confident will sign leases.

"I know things are happening, but it's really nothing that I can talk about or discuss at this point," he stated. "Oh, there are definitely things (that are) exciting, that could be happening. Some tremendous things, really fun stuff could be happening. But right now, it's all conjecture."

Bueche said that The Springs at Riverside Landing will require a lot of time to acquire permits, and building on the swampland will present engineering challenges.

"By the time we build out the site to where the buildings will actually be," he mentioned, "we'll end up with over eight feet of fill under the buildings."

Some people believe those infrastructure concerns will lead Bueche to demand a tax increment financing plan, or TIF. TIFs allow local governments to give a portion of its tax revenue back to the developer to cover construction costs. TIFs have become popular in recent years as a way to encourage job growth and protect sales tax revenue.

"They need to keep those tax dollars in Livingston (Parish)," Bueche stated. "Livingston needs the money, and they should keep their money."

Livingston Parish used a TIF to spur development at Juban Crossing, which became controversial as the developer asked for larger and larger amounts.

"We haven't been in the design process that long," Bueche said when asked if he would demand a similar subsidy. "There are certainly challenges that have to be overcome, but it's just too early to know if we're going to be asking for anything."

Denham Springs will hold a public hearing about the annexation of the land that would become The Springs on October 7. Assuming the annexation takes place and the economic development district is created, Bueche said he will begin environmental assessment studies and permit applications.

Phase I of The Shoppes is expected to be ready for tenants in the spring of 2014, with Phase II to be completed by the end of 2014. Construction on The Springs could begin next summer, with completion set for some time in 2015.  

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