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County Commission rallying around Southlake

By Justin Boron

With a new Henry County mall planned to open in 2007 and vacancies already in Southlake Mall, County Commissioner Charley Griswell said Tuesday the county should do whatever it takes to keep its existing businesses, especially the ones in the 28-year old Southlake Mall, which contributes to the $3 million in sales tax to Morrow each year.

He said the county needs to make "some kind of concession instead of trying to get the last almighty dollar.

"This is like Delta to me," he said.

Griswell's comments surfaced from of a discussion of a tax dispute between the county and Rich's-Macy's.

Macy's moved out of the mall in 2003 and the value of the property has been contested since then.

The county is discussing the possibility of arbitration with the company to the settle the dispute over property worth $700,000 in county property taxes, said Rodney McDaniel, the county tax assessor.

Regardless of the outcome, other commissioners share Griswell's concern about the mall's gravitation away from high-end shopping and toward specialty shops like jewelry stores.

"We should not develop a bling, bling mall," said County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. "We should have a high quality mall."

Fueling the concerns is apprehension over how Southlake will fare once the South Point mall - which reportedly will have Dillard's, JCPenney, and Kohl's, - opens in McDonough.

Across the nation, indoor malls have been forced to compete with the increasingly popular outdoor, open-air shopping landscapes that industry analysts call "lifestyle centers."

Grant Wainscott, the director of economic development in Morrow, said he isn't so sure the new mall would necessarily hurt Southlake, given rising retail demand in the fast growing metro Atlanta region.

He also said the city is putting the finishing touches on a yearlong redevelopment project for the area, which should help the Southlake Mall compete with the new one ine Henry County.