Retail rivalry prompts a bill from the governor

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Print this page by Jill Oxendine
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Rendering courtesy Interstate Realty & Development

At times, The Falls development, a $260 million retail complex in Bristol off Interstate 81, has appeared doomed. March brought a reprieve from the governor. 

The regional shopping center near the interstate’s Exit 5 has faced serious obstacles in recent months. They included the threat of legal action by Washington County, a lawsuit filed by a local businessman and the rejection of General Assembly legislation that would have helped the city to sell revenue bonds needed to repay debt on The Falls.

While the disagreement with the county was resolved quietly, the lawsuit and failed legislation were major deterrents until early March. That was when the suit was dismissed, and a new bill was filed by state Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Lebanon, on behalf of Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The new legislation sailed through the General Assembly.

Andrew Trivette, Bristol’s assistant city manager, says McAuliffe’s action shows just how important The Falls is to Southwest Virginia’s economy. “It’s difficult to ignore the relevance of a project that’s going to bring a projected 3,000 jobs, has a potential revenue impact of $13 million for the city and another $9 million for the state of Virginia,” he notes. “That’s a substantial project, and I think Governor McAuliffe recognizes that.”

The Falls is competing with The Pinnacle, a retail complex being developed just six miles down the road in Tennessee.  A Tennessee law makes it possible for sales tax revenues associated with certain commercial projects to be applied toward paying back portions of debt accrued during development.

Without similar legislation in Virginia, Bristol officials feared the Tennessee law might persuade potential tenants to choose The Pinnacle over The Falls.  A Virginia bill passed in 2012 had raised concerns in the bond market, prompting new legislation this year. 

The two retail projects are anchored by sports outfitter stores — Bass Pro Shops in The Pinnacle and Cabela’s in The Falls.

Now back on track, The Falls is being developed in four phases. Phase one includes Calhoun’s and Zaxby’s restaurants, Smoky Mountain Brewery and a Sheetz convenience store —in addition to Cabela’s, now slated to open sometime during 2015.

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