Redevelopment of the former East Rome Kmart site may well represent one of the largest recycling projects ever in Rome, but it’s not the first big recycling effort undertaken by R.H. Ledbetter Properties. The Rome-based retail developers did essentially the same thing when they tore down the old Riverbend Mall and constructed the new Riverbend shopping center right across Turner McCall Boulevard.

More than 6,800 tons of block, brick and concrete that was torn down has been crushed up and will be re\used on site. Almost 800 tons of structural steel from the buildings were recycled through Self Recycling in Cartersville. Andy Gates, vice president for construction management at Ledbetter Properties, said the only reason the steel went to Cartersville is because they were the only ones capable of accepting that kind of tonnage at the time.

“We’re not putting that in the landfill. We’re not having to haul it off,” said Gates.

Wright Ledbetter, COO for Ledbetter Properties, said crews will be stripping the old parking lot and crushing all of the existing asphalt as well, all to be re-used as redevelopment moves forward. That will be another 5,550 or more tons of demolition that will be recycled.

“We’re able to use all of that on-site to backfill and balance the site. A portion of it is in the flood zone so we have to bring our grades up,” Gates said. “We’re not importing additional material.”

Ledbetter said that by repurposing the demolition materials, the developer is able to keep costs related to leveling the site down.

“No cost to haul it out and no cost to bring in new material,” Gates noted.

When the demolition of the old Kmart and other out-parcel buildings on the site at Hicks Drive and Turner McCall Boulevard was completed, 1,228 tons of material was hauled off to the local landfill. The vast majority of that was roof ballast stone in the old Kmart building, which was so small and almost perfectly round that it could not be re-used on site for compaction purposes.

“We knew what we were going to get, it was a pretty easy calculation,” Gates said.

Even trees that were cut in the corner of the large parcel where a stormwater runoff retention pond is being developed were recycled. They were chipped up on site and sent out to the International Paper plant.

“We try to be as resourceful and efficient as possible,” Gates said.

Ledbetter said that being resourceful and efficient is always important, but perhaps even more important on this project because the cost of acquiring the property was larger than average.

“This is a very expensive project because of all of the site work,” Ledbetter said. “We had to add $5 million worth of site work. We’re bringing the site up an average of 22 inches.”

The infrastructure to serve the East Bend development is all new and includes new stormwater drains, gas, electric and sewer lines.

When the entire 19.7-acre project is complete, there will be approximately 13.27 acres of impervious surface (paved over) area, which is almost 1.7 acres less than what was there before the work began. Most of that will involve extra landscaped islands, trees and extra green space between buildings.

“As developers, it’s nice to be an example of being conservation-minded when we can,” Ledbetter said.

The expense for the East Bend project is something R.H. Ledbetter Properties felt was well worth the risk in the current retail climate.

“Rome is under-retailed. A lot of retail is in trouble because there is too much of it in concentrated areas,” Ledbetter said. “Retail is not going away. The successful retailers that are going to be here tomorrow are using omni-channel techniques to deliver the goods to their customers. That means brick and mortar coupled with online and delivery options. ... Customers want convenience but they still want that experience.”

The East Bend project is slated to feature a blend of soft good retailers, fashion retailers and restaurants that are not present in this market. Ledbetter is still not ready to publicly name any of the tenants that have locked into the project, but that may not be too far down the road.

“We believe this is a mitigated gamble because the partners that we’re talking to about coming to East Bend are strong and we think it’s a measured, calculated risk that we’re willing to take,” Ledbetter said.

The fact that East Bend is being developed in the Ledbetters’ hometown makes the project extra exciting for the company.

“The fact that we’re able to take that old Kmart down and put something else in there that is going to be a major economic generator for the area, job creator and provide new, good services and restaurants, we’re excited about it,” Ledbetter said.

Gates said the heat has been unfortunate in one respect, but highly beneficial in another. The big push is to get as much of the site work done in advance of winter rains.

“We’ve got a lot of dirt to move and it’s on-site dirt. If it’s wet when we take it out of the ground it’s going to be wet when we put it back down,” Gates said.

Ledbetter said that crews are slightly ahead of schedule, taking advantage of the extremely dry fall. Gates said that if all continues to go on, or ahead of, schedule, Romans will start to see steel rising again for the new shopping center sometime in February. The company hopes to have the shopping center ready for tenants by October of 2020 to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season.

One last note related to East Bend: Ledbetter said Romans can expect to hear news before too long about efforts that are underway to mark the fact that the new shopping center sits on the site of the old East Rome High School.

“We haven’t worked out a lot of the details yet,” Ledbetter said.

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