W.C. Bradley buys Phenix City shopping center, plans major renovation

The W.C. Bradley Co., in its first major move on the Phenix City side of the Chattahoochee River, has purchased Phenix Plaza shopping center for $4.5 million with plans for a major renovation.

The acquisition of the 100,000-square-foot shopping center from Montgomery, Ala.-based real-estate firm Aronov will be announced at a press conference this afternoon near the Phenix City Riverwalk.

The shopping center, which is 57 years old and now anchored by a Piggly Wiggly supermarket and Family Dollar store, is located on 13th Street in Phenix City, between Third Avenue and Broad Street. It sits a couple of hundred feet west of the river.

"We think it's a very strategic piece of property with respect to the overall riverfront," Mat Swift, president of the W.C. Bradley Real Estate Division, said Tuesday. "Our goal is to improve and create a very vibrant community. When I say the word community, it's not only the Columbus side, but also the Phenix City side."

W.C. Bradley, a private company headquartered in downtown Columbus, already is investing heavily on the Georgia side. It has pumped millions of dollars into the Eagle & Phenix development, turning a former brick textile mill into loft condominiums and apartments, with restaurants, retail and office to be part of the mix. The company's venture into Phenix City comes with several major projects in the pipeline downtown. Troy University has committed to build a large campus overlooking the river on the Alabama side, with a Courtyard by Marriott hotel also planned in the vicinity.

Both Columbus and Phenix City are preparing for completion of a 2.5-mile whitewater course on the Chattahoochee River, with outfitters from North Carolina and Tennessee already marketing the attraction to groups. The course, which culminates with foaming rapids near the 13th Street bridge that connects the two cities, is expected to see paying customers by June.

"This is another key strategic piece to help enhance Phenix City's downtown riverfront," Swift said of the Phenix Plaza purchase. "We thought it was a good piece of property and has a lot of potential. We think it fits our mission to try to improve the riverfront in both communities."

Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe called the deal by W.C. Bradley "huge" for residents of both sides of the river that starts as a small stream in north Georgia and flows south to the Gulf of Mexico. "We're just so thankful for the entrustment that people are putting into Phenix City and this council. I'm truly thankful for that," said Lowe, who took office last fall with an all new council. He is anxious to see the shopping center upgraded to complement the university campus and hotel that are on the way.

"The message that is being sent -- and the message I hope that will be perceived -- is look what we can do together," he said of W.C. Bradley's investment. "The river does divide us, but still it makes us so close."

Shaun Culligan, economic development manager in Phenix City, said the move by the Columbus company will keep momentum building toward a dramatic transformation of the riverfront. Troy's project, along with the hotel, and now the retail venture, all should help his office recruit more investors into the area, he said, and hopefully expand the retail sales tax base upon which the city relies so heavily.

"So many people want special types of retail," he said. "And when you have a company like W.C. Bradley coming in, and kind of bringing this (shopping) centerpiece of Phenix City to a different level, it gives us as an economic development department a greater opportunity to land, or to participate in seeing some specialty type of retail, that otherwise would be a lot more difficult."

Swift said W.C. Bradley is now lining up architects and land planners to help it decide specifically what to do with the shopping center, which sits on six acres and is about 60 percent occupied. Piggly Wiggly, Family Dollar and a Citi Trends store border 13th Street, while the Third Avenue side of the L-shaped center has been mostly vacant for years.

One move will be made soon. Whitewater Express, the Tennessee outfitter, will temporarily go into the empty space closest to Family Dollar by June, he said. Nantahala Outdoor Center is locating on the Columbus side.

"It's sort of a two-phase process," Swift said. "Right now there's some short-term goals of making it look better and trying to create some excitement. But then there's long-term goals of what this center should look like 10 years from now. That's sort of the loose process we'll go through."

It should take six to nine months to get a firm plan in place for the property, which might include tearing down a portion of the shopping center and rebuilding, Swift said. The company will study the demographics of people drawn by the whitewater course, the university and the overall downtown amenities.

"I think what whitewater does is it immediately brings people to the market," he said. "It's not one of these situations where you build retail and you hope people will come there. We know for a fact that thousands and thousands of people are going to come to this river to ride the rafts and kayaks and all of the other things."