Southern Skies

Climate alone might give the South a slight edge when it comes to an open-air center’s chances.

But for The Summit Fremaux, in Slidell, La., and Freedom Crossing, in El Paso, Texas, weather advantages were eclipsed by favorable market conditions.

Slidell’s Summit: The town of Slidell, La., about 30 miles from New Orleans, saw its share of troubles after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. More difficulties have plagued the population of 25,000 during the economic downturn.

But The Summit Fremaux, a major mixed-use undertaking by developer Bayer Properties, has persevered.

“Construction has slowed somewhat due to the economy,” said Jeffrey Bayer, principal of Birmingham, Ala.-based Bayer Properties, “but we are on track with the infrastructure work for the development, which will be completed later this year.”

Once completed in 2011, the 400-acre Summit Fremaux is planned to include specialty and mass retail, restaurants, a theater, hotel, medical facilities, commercial office space and residences, and will be home to a University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park.

The development will be created in several phases, Bayer said, similar to the developer’s approach to its other Summit projects such as The Summit Birmingham, which this year opened its sixth phase in 12 years.

The Summit Fremaux will also reflect the design and feel of the other upscale Summit developments including, besides The Summit Birmingham, both Summit projects in Reno, Nev., and Louisville, Ky. The Summits feature expansive courtyards, broad pedestrian avenues and benches, buildings made with textured brick and slate roofs, hanging-basket flowers, statues and extensive landscaping, arbors and open-air balconies and often dramatic views across terraced landscapes.

Even more significant, especially now, is what the project brings to the local community.

“The Summit Fremaux will have a major impact on the economy in the city of Slidell and will enhance the greater New Orleans area,” said Bayer. “Our development offers educational opportunities, expands housing and business office space, and gives new and broader opportunities for retail.”

Freedom rings: In July, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service and ServiceStar Development Co. celebrated a groundbreaking event—in more ways than one. The development tandem turned the dirt on a first-of-its-kind retail project to be part of a U.S. military installation.

Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas, will offer national, regional and local retail in a 455,875-sq.-ft. open-air center anchored by an expanded Post Exchange department store, a Commissary grocery store and a privately operated 10-screen Cineplex.

Retail on a military base is nothing new, but private retail is. “Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss creates the first-ever opportunity for national, regional and local retailers to privately operate within a shopping center on a military installation,” said Mark DeRose, CEO of ServiceStar Development Co., Greenwood Village, Colo. “The established-demand anchors, the PX and Commissary, each currently have sales in excess of $50 million annually.”

Freedom Crossing, DeRose added, opens the doors for private retailers to locate in the direct path of a loyal, growing and economically sound customer base.

The public/private venture between AAFES and ServiceStar will deliver a $100 million open-air retail development to a Fort Bliss community with 118,000-plus active military, retirees and their families. Current sales generated by the existing base retail are $175 million, but with the addition of Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss, annual retail and restaurant sales are projected to exceed $350 million.

“The annual sales of the existing anchors and the tremendous growth at Fort Bliss speak to Freedom Crossing’s economic viability, but we also have given great consideration to environmental and energy design,” said Joe Giuffreda, VP community development for AAFES.

Freedom Crossing will incorporate sustainable practices that include use of recycled materials, daylighting principles, xeriscape and low-water usage. It will seek a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver rating.

While its sustainability will speak to the environmentally aware, the center’s amenities are intended to serve entertainment needs. Freedom Crossing will feature outdoor dining spaces, a children’s play area, water features and free wireless Internet access. The center will host community celebrations and events throughout the year.