With shovels in their hands and smiles on their faces July 25, local officials broke ground on a huge new retail development near Hank Aaron Stadium.

The ceremonial movement of dirt meant the McGown Park project was officially underway. Jeff Smith, president of real estate and development firm Hutton thanked the city and county for their support.

“I thank the city and county for the partnership,” he said. “It’s a great time to be in Mobile. The citizens should be proud of the leadership here.”

McGowin Park will be a 600,000-square-foot complex, which will be anchored by Costco. Company spokesman Jeff Elliott confirmed that the warehouse store would be coming to Mobile.

“One is scheduled for June of next year,” he said.

The store, which will be the fourth Costco in the state, will be 148,000-square-feet. Smith said other stores joining Costco at McGowin Park will be Dick’s Sporting Goods, Petco, Hobby Lobby, Ashley Furniture, HomeGoods and the first Field & Stream in the Southeast.

“We wouldn’t be here without the retailers,” Smith said. “They’re going to have a huge impact on the tax base and a huge impact on lifestyle.”

Smith said restaurants would also be a part of McGowin Park, but would be announced at a later date.

“We are so, so grateful you took the risk to come here,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson said. “I’m just grateful to inherit this. The city councilors had something to do with it. There are so many people involved on the city and county level.”

In addition to Stimpson, the city was represented by Council President Gina Gregory, councilors Fred Richardson and C.J. Small. The county was represented by Commissioner Jerry Carl.

“Jeff, thank you so much,” Carl said. “We’re really excited. I hope you get all the business out of Mississippi and Baldwin County. On behalf of the county, thank you for choosing us.”

McGowin Park, zoned as an “improvement district,” will allow developers to issue bonds to finance public infrastructure. The city will return 1.4 cents of its five-cent sales tax collection and the county will return three-tenths cents of its one-cent sales tax collection on revenues that are projected to be as high as $200 million per year.

The Mobile County Commission and Mobile City Council approved the district last summer with construction originally slated to begin in February.

Since they were approved by state law in 2000, improvement districts have been cropping up around the state. In Baldwin County, similar public-private partnerships were used to create the Eastern Shore Center in Malbis, The Wharf in Orange Beach, The Spanish Fort Town Center and Colonial Pinnacle at Craft Farms in Gulf Shores.

Officials believe this project will expand the current tax base, but won’t have a negative impact on existing stores in the city.
“I’m always bullish on existing industry,” Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Sisson said. “They will work to keep their customers.”

Smith took it a step further, not only saying that existing retailers in Mobile would not be hurt by this, but adding that this new development would attract shoppers, who might go to Mississippi or Baldwin County instead.

After eight years, Smith said he was just happy to see dirt moving at the site.

“It’s just a profound amount of satisfaction to see the progress,” he said.