Does Atlanta really need another megamall? The answer is yes, if you ask the development teams at Forest City Enterprises and Cadillac Fairview. The two companies formed a joint venture in 1997 to build The Mall at Stonecrest, a $131 million, 1.3 million-sq.-ft. regional center in the city's southeastern suburbs.

When it opens its doors this month, Stonecrest will join almost a dozen similar centers in the skirmish for area consumers' increasingly limited spending money. Although Grubb & Ellis describes the Atlanta market as “quite energetic” in its summer 2001 Retail Market Trends report, some doubt remains as to whether the store-saturated city can support its burgeoning array of shopping options.

One high profile Atlanta megamall, The Mills Corp.'s Discover Mills, scheduled to open Nov. 2, recently slimmed down from a planned 1.7 million sq. ft. to 1.4 million sq. ft. Tenant overlap with nearby Mall of Georgia and Gwinnett Place mall may have triggered the change in plans.

Nonetheless, Stonecrest's developers remain optimistic. “We're coming on strong right out of the box,” says Brian Ratner, executive vice president, East Coast development for Cleveland-based Forest City.

“Stonecrest is the only mall in the market to open with five anchors in place.” Those five anchors — Sears, JCPenney, Parisian and flagship Dillard's and Rich's stores — are enthusiastic about the mall and its demographics. Ratner says the city's existing regionals are all more than 25 miles from Lithonia, Ga. — Stonecrest's target submarket. Additional shoppers are expected to be drawn from the nearby cities of Athens and Augusta, as well as the eastern corridor of Georgia.

The Mall at Stonecrest will be one component of a 1,100-acre town center development aimed at offering a live-work-play environment to the area's retail-starved families and young professionals. Big boxes, restaurants, office space, hotels and residential communities will round out peripheral development and the mall itself will incorporate a 16-screen MegaStar Cinema.

In addition to the ubiquitous regional tenants, Stonecrest's lineup of 120 specialty retailers includes Aveda, Brookstone, a Borders with interior and exterior entrances, AnnTaylor Loft, Cache, new-to-the-market Forever 21, EBX, Ebkids, Discovery Store and Charlotte Russe.

Ratner says Stonecrest will be years ahead of the market's other malls. “Most of the other centers in this market are older. Retail design has advanced a lot since they were built,” he says.

“Stonecrest takes advantage of several new trends, including the hybrid indoor/outdoor format.”

Baltimore-based RTKL designed the two-level, crescent-shaped mall, which features a central outdoor plaza bordered by restaurants with café seating, canopied storefronts and an adjoining, glass-walled food pavilion. The plaza is built around four obelisks and acts as a lobby and outdoor entrance to both the theater and the mall as well as a spot for hosting concerts, art festivals and neighborhood gatherings.

The mall's five primary entrances — constructed by project contractor Vratsinas of Little Rock, Ark. — feature canopied, full-height, floor-to-ceiling glass to enhance the visibility of interior spaces and create an indoor/outdoor ambience.

Inside, 10 graphic panels suspend from the high ceiling along the mall's main gallery, providing space above tenant signage for advertising and brand messaging. Toronto-based Cadillac Fairview imported this messaging technique from some of its centers outside the United States.

The escalator configuration at Stonecrest is another mall anomaly. Rather than extending straight up from the ground level to the second-level storefronts of anchors, escalator banks are tucked off to the sides of the center's main gallery. RTKL suggested this arrangement to maintain an unobstructed view from one end of the mall to another.

Cincinnati-based North American Properties is developing adjacent outparcels that will include Stonecrest Marketplace — a $48 million, 450,000-sq.-ft. power center anchored by Babies ‘R’ Us, Garden Ridge, Linens ‘N’ Things, Marshalls, Ross Dress For Less and Staples.

Despite the recent slowdown in retail expansion across metro Atlanta, leasing for Stonecrest Marketplace anchor tenant slots has been excellent, says North American Properties partner Stephen Lam. “This activity proves that where there is a pent-up demand for shopping alternatives closer to home, store openings will follow. We anticipate having similar success when we begin marketing the outparcels and leasing the small shop space.”

Stonecrest's development team says the mall's fresh format, underserved demographics and unique tenant and anchor mix will ensure its success in the brimming market. “Shoppers will walk away from this mall talking about it,” Ratner says.