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Buckhorn Village: How will this 1.1 million-square-foot retail space affect Alamance County?
[January 27, 2008]

Buckhorn Village: How will this 1.1 million-square-foot retail space affect Alamance County?

(Times-News (Burlington, NC) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jan. 27--EFLAND -- On Feb. 25 John Fugo will be at a meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. He will be trying to get the board to sign off on the biggest shopping center for at least 30 miles in any direction.

It's to be called Buckhorn Village.

Fugo is one of a group of developers from Chapel Hill proposing 1.1 million square feet of retail space in a few dozen stores, with a couple of large, unnamed anchors and offices, hotels, and restaurants on what is now the Buckhorn Jockey Lot and Farmers Market. Close to the size of Durham's Streets at Southpoint and Concord's Concord Mills, this would be one of the few Orange County developments that makes Alamance County sit up and take notice.

It should draw shoppers from hundreds of miles around. It would matter to local merchants who would have to compete for local shoppers and try to catch their share of the out-of-towners coming to Buckhorn.

It would also mean changes along Interstate 85/40, making the highway look more like a bypass through a shopping district than an interstate, and that matters to all those commuters going into the Triangle every day.

If it becomes part of Mebane, it would draw the eastern Alamance town into Orange County in a lot of new and deep ways.

There are still a lot of unknowns. The basic layout of the 128-acre development, large anchor at the back, downtown area at the front and another anchor to the south, is pretty firm, but the number of smaller stores and the exact layout of buildings and streets is a work in progress.

The 40,712 cars developers expect to come in and out of Buckhorn Village's four entrances every day would mean widening Buckhorn Road, the ramps onto Interstate 85/40, the bridge over it and maybe even the interstate itself.

Mebane and Orange County would get plenty of sales and property taxes from Buckhorn Village. The developers say the project could be worth $125 million, which would mean almost $1.4 million in property taxes and $6 million in sales taxes. There are no firm numbers on the number of jobs it could provide.

THE DEVELOPMENT TEAM came together, with some help from the county, just for this project.

Fugo is partner and manager of Montgomery Carolina, the company that built the "downtown" area of a large Chapel Hill subdivision called Southern Village. It includes a grocery store, medical center, movie theater, church and a lot of storefronts.

Roger Perry is president of East West Partners, the company that built Meadowmont, another large, mixed-use development in Chapel Hill with a downtown and lots of homes.

George Horton, president of Tryon Investment group, most recently built the Gateway Center in the historic section of downtown Hillsborough. It will have a grocery store and about 150 Orange County employees.

Fugo says the chairman of the Orange County commissioners, Barry Jacobs and former county economic development director Diane Reid approached the three developers about doing something together in the county's 880-square-foot, roughly 14-yearold economic development district on Interstate 85/40 on the county's west side.

Jacobs said interest from a retailer, one he did not name, prompted him to encourage these three developers to work together.

"We think the people we are working with are honest, dependable, sensitive to a lot of the values of Orange County and have a track record of doing quality work," Jacobs said.

Jacobs and others in the county started talking to the developers about a year-anda-half ago in the hopes of getting something started in the development district that had been sitting unused for so long.

"Once we put the developers together and put them together with possible clients, we as elected officials stepped back and now it's going through the process like any other development," Jacobs said.

This was part of a long-term effort the county started in 2000, Jacobs said, and included improving its relationship with Mebane. Mebane is the only logical place Orange County could go to provide water to the district and other development on its west side.

The county and city made an agreement in 2004 for Mebane to provide utilities to Gravelly Hill Middle School on West Ten Road, around the corner from the flea market, and to the development district as it grows.

The school has not and will not be made part of the city, because it is exempt from property taxes and because the Orange County Sheriff 's Department provides security. The city annexes everything else it provides utilities to.

Mebane already provides water to the giant Petro truck stop across Buckhorn Road from the flea market and it is part of the city. The city had always refused to provide water to the flea market because it would not bring many local investment dollars and jobs.

Its defenders say the flea market is the perfect place for small business people, but it's not the kind of business the county and city want.

Mebane City Manager Robert Wilson said the city's engineer is working out what kind of upgrades the city's water system would need to serve a shopping center this size. Wilson said he thinks there would need to be a larger sewer pump station and larger water lines. All of that would be expensive, but it's too early to say how expensive.

Wilson said the developers and Orange County have been talking to Mebane for a long time about this project, but it probably won't go before the city council until one of the stores is open and ready to be annexed.

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