In separate news releases Monday, both Charlotte, North Carolina-based Belk Inc. and New York City based real estate investment trust Rouse Properties announced business expansion plans of seismic proportions in the Port City, with the 48-year-old Bel Air Mall at the epicenter.

Belk unveiled blueprints to invest $15 million in the transformation of some 230,000 square feet of retail space at the soon-to-be-shuttered Sears store into a new flagship Belk property. According to the statement, the new store will offer an enhanced shopping experience for customers along with expanded selections of premium brands. Ladies’ and kids’ apparel will fill the first floor, while menswear and home products will occupy the second. Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2016, with completion slated for the fall.  

“We are excited to build a premier Belk flagship store in Mobile to create the ultimate shopping experience for our customers in this region,” David Luoma, chairman of Belk Western Division, based in Birmingham, said. “We will offer broad assortments of top brands for the entire family. This project also represents Belk’s ongoing deep commitment to our customers and the Mobile community.”

The two current Belk locations at Bel Air and Springdale malls will continue to operate until the new store opens in fall 2016. As of this writing, however, future plans for the two existing properties beyond the new Belk’s opening are unknown. The nation’s largest family-owned retailer has established beachheads in several Gulf Coast communities since 2005, operating stores in Mobile, Pensacola, Gautier, Gulfport and Biloxi. To date, the company has more than 300 department stores in 16 states.

In addition to the Belk announcement, Rouse Properties proclaimed it is initiating a “complete transformation” of the inside common areas at the mall, including the redevelopment of enclosed shopping space. High-end touches will include updated interior landscaping, new flooring, improved lighting, soft seating and free Wi-Fi, which has already been installed throughout the center. Engaging streetscape work and high-volume restaurant concepts fronting on Airport Boulevard are also part of the rollout.

Examples of Rouse Properties already putting these plans into action is the execution of a lease with P.F. Chang’s, a national, upscale Asian restaurant chain, set to open in a 6,000-square-foot space, as well as leasing another 3,500 square feet to a Grimaldi’s Pizzeria eatery, the franchise’s first foray into Alabama. Both will have entrances on the newly designed streetscape.

Rouse presented these plans in conjunction with the support of the city of Mobile and the official rebranding of the oldest, continuously operating enclosed super-regional mall property in Alabama as “The Shoppes at Bel Air.”

“The combination of Belk’s expanded presence along with the planned renovations will help solidify The Shoppes at Bel Air as the dominant shopping destination in the Gulf Coast region,” Andrew Silberfein, president and CEO of Rouse Properties, said.

“When we acquired Bel Air last year, we saw an incredible opportunity. The interest level from retailers has been even greater than anticipated, as evidenced by Belk’s confidence to open a flagship store and nearly double its footprint. We are creating a highly appealing experience which seamlessly mixes shopping, dining and entertainment options all under one roof and are excited about the future of The Shoppes at Bel Air,” he concluded.
 
New Nappie Award winners for 2015
While the Nappie Awards were old hat for many selected this year, Lagniappe’s new voting process mimicking a playoff bracket made 2015’s awards the most competitive in memory.

With traffic that crashed our website multiple times and ultimately collecting nearly a million ballots, awards in every category were truly earned this year.

That said, here are a few comments from rookie champs and returning heavyweights who reclaimed bragging rights in a few professional categories.              

Best CPA — Andy Cook, R. Andrew Cook LLC
“I was honored just to be nominated as a finalist and never thought I’d receive the award,” first-time Nappie Award winner Andy Cook said. “My firm was started in 2000 out of my home office. In the beginning, I’d work a full-time job during the day and handle clients during the evenings and weekends. By 2003 the growth was enough to resign from my employer, hire staff and move into an office space. We have continued to grow each year by providing high-quality accounting and consulting services to our clients.

“This has been a very exciting and honorable experience. I’d like to thank all of my clients, friends and family for their votes. It certainly has to be one of the many highlights of my career,” he said.

Best Lawyer If Your Spouse is a Ho (Divorce) — Alison Herlihy
“How do I feel about winning the Nappie Award for best divorce attorney for the first time? I am thrilled! It is an honor to be recognized by our community for the dedication and hard work put into my practice and serving my clients over the years,” rookie Nappie recipient Alison Herlihy said. 

“I am a Mobile native, and have been practicing law since 2005. I opened my own practice in February 2011 and have focused almost exclusively on family law throughout my career. I became a lawyer because my top goal is to help people solve their problems and come up with creative solutions that are ultimately positive for individuals and families. Family law is the perfect arena for that.”

Best Facelift Doc — Michael Lyons, M.D.
“Thank you to all those that made it possible to receive this award once again. It’s humbling to have patients recognize the work you perform on an ongoing basis. My goal is to strive for success 100 percent of the time. I am honored to be nominated and accept the award with deepest gratitude to my patients and outstanding staff,” returning Nappie winner Dr. Michael Lyons said. 

Dr. Lyons is a Quadruple Board Certified Facial Plastic Cosmetic Surgeon with almost 30 years’ experience in his field. Lyons resides in Mobile his wife, Mona, and two daughters who attend Corpus Christi Catholic Church.