CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - While some banks may be in trouble, this piggy bank for Concord keeps on making deposits. In our Cover Story PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports on how Concord Mills has become North Carolina's number one tourist destination.
This week marks the 10-th anniversary of the opening of Concord Mills.. we're asking did the creation live up to expectations?
The answer is it's more than what they envisioned, beyond what they imagined.
Who'd ever guess a shopping mall could literally transform a town not only becoming a mecca for retail and entertainment and lodging.. but bringing thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars.
It barely registered a blip on Charlotte's radar screen February '98 when they broke ground on a place they were calling Concord Mills.
Nothing they told Concord Mayor Scott Padgett.. a city council member at the time could prepare him for what was to come.
"It transformed Concord in a way that we could not imagine."
You're not kidding...
Look at the landscape back then.. land had already been cleared when these pictures were taken.
Look at it now.
"The Mills people told us that this will be a magnet."
And it has.
There's the mall itself.. 200 stores.. 1-point-four million square feet.
The state's number one tourist destination-- attracting more than 17 and a half million visitors a year.
But it's offspring.. strip malls and scads of stores.
Hotels.. a Convention Center.
And now a new Lowe's and Wal-Mart.
And as of April.. The Great Wolf Lodge. A combination water park - resort hotel.
Altogether making I-85's Exit 49 a destination.
Oh, and at the other end of the Boulevard there's a race track you may have heard about..
"You got two of the top tourist attractions in North Carolina on both ends of the street," says Mayor Padgett.
What no other city in the U.S. can say. It's put Concord on the map and made Concord and Cabarrus county very rich.
Tourism is an economic driver for the county. Directly supporting more than 3-thousand-500 jobs. Accounting for 2-point-75 million dollars in visitor spending.
"When I look at this place I consider this like a big bank. A piggy bank sitting out here. People from all over are coming by and dropping a deposit in our piggy bank."
Having lost Philip Morris. And nearby-- Pillowtex six years ago what's grown up around this exit has helped keep city and county coffers full and property taxes relatively low.
Traffic's still a major headache.. but when visiting mayors come to town.. there's one word Scott Padgett hears over and over.
"They kept saying wow. We didn't know. We just had no idea Scott. Well you know you thought I was just some guy that fell off the pumpkin truck. We do have something big going on here."
When asked if there's a downside.. the mayor admits it's traffic.. but it's not materialized as bad as critics ten years ago said it would be.
Critics would still contend it's a terrible example of suburban sprawl.