Avalon bucks retail trend with leasing growth

Despite less than encouraging U.S. retail sales numbers, developers behind phase II of Alpharetta’s Avalon project have landed some shopping heavy hitters, including Brooks Brothers, Levi’s and Urban Outfitters.

The 86-acre mixed-use project, set to open next spring, also has leased space to Lucky Brand, The Boardroom Salon for Men, Hop City, Rumi’s Kitchen and Brine Fish House, officials say. Phase I of the project — which includes a Whole Foods store, movie theater and high-end apartments — opened in September 2014.

Avalon’s retail win comes at a time when the retail industry seems at a crossroads as consumer tastes change and online shopping takes a bigger bite out of sales.

Some malls, including several in metro Atlanta, are struggling to keep tenants and have turned vacant space into data centers or college classrooms.

Recent headlines have focused more on store closings and bankruptcy filings than which chains are expanding.

Mega retailers Sports Authority and Aeropostale both declared bankruptcy recently and hinted that they will shutter hundreds of stores, including some metro Atlanta locations.

And big box chains that once dominated the landscape, including Sears and Kmart, are now on the industry’s most endangered list.

“Maintaining and sustaining a retail brand for many decades has proven to be incredibly difficult,” said Greg Charleston, senior managing director of consulting and financial advisory firm Conway MacKenzie.

Mark Toro, a partner at Avalon developer North American Properties, said retailers are attracted to the project’s design as an outdoor, walkable urban community. Consumers want to see restaurants with patios overflowing with diners, pocket parks with entertainment and yoga classes in progress as they walk by, he said.

“Retailers are choosing brick and mortar locations more carefully, and they are willing to pay a premium to lease space in an experiential, hospitality-driven community like Avalon,” he said.

Avalon has leased about 80 percent of phase II retail, he said. The new phase is expected to create more than 4,600 jobs and generate $21 million in annual sales tax revenue.

Phase I of the project is for sale.

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