Owners of Greensboro, Ga.'s Reynolds Plantation, a rural stretch of land 75 miles east of Atlanta, are proving that developers can generate retail buzz far from city limits.

They are building a $351 million, 609-acre mixed-used complex called Lake Oconee Village on part of an 8,000-acre tract of land near Lake Oconee, known more for its largemouth bass population than savvy shoppers. Already built are a 56,000-square-foot Publix-anchored retail strip, a 241-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge and nine-hole golf course. Next on the agenda: a 300,000-square-foot lifestyle center, and a retirement community with a medical facility, independent housing and assisted living, to be completed in 2010.

“It's in the middle of nowhere,” says one Atlanta resident and frequent visitor of Lake Oconee Village, privately owned by the Reynolds' family of aluminum fame. “But you're talking about an area with million dollar homes that are covered by Architectural Digest.” The demographics are driving the retail development.

Lake Oconee Village is set in the midst of Greene, Morgan and Putnam counties, formerly inhabited by cows and tractors. Now there are about 25,000 permanent residents. About 75,000 visit the resort village each year.

“In the past seven or eight years, there were probably only 50,000 square feet of retail space around the lake — mainly gas stations and convenient stores around Highway 44,” says Todd C. Ciavola, director of commercial real estate for Reynolds Plantation. The surge of southerners, mainly baby-boomers with average annual household incomes of $150,000 buying second homes, prompted demand for retail.

That's good news to retailers looking for opportunities outside oversaturated cities. “Developers are starting to look outside of Atlanta,” says Ciavola. “They're running out of road, they've got smog problems, sewer problems and water problems,” he says. “We started here with raw land that was in good condition, not swampy or mountainous. And it had an excellent road structure with heavy traffic.”

Since Publix opened, a handful of mom-and-pops have struggled. “We've been here for four years and Publix has definitely made a difference in our business,” says Freda Rountree, owner of Magnolia Bakery, a small specialty grocer a mile down the road. “But we pride ourselves with products and services that you'll never find at Publix.”

Ciavola says Lake Oconee Village could be the Southeast's next big vacation/retirement destination. The project “is putting us on the map, not only in Georgia, but in the Southeast.”