The COVID-19 pandemic clearly caused some delays and challenges for developers of the new East Bend shopping center in Rome.

Under ideal circumstances, most of the shopping center was to have been up and running on Oct. 1. Wright Ledbetter told members of the Rome Floyd Chamber on Friday morning that some of the key players may not open until next October.

“It might be that because of all of these tenant partners opening unevenly it may actually help with the hiring absorption,” Ledbetter said. “Because they’re not all opening at the same time, they therefore don’t need the employment staffing at the same time.”

The new shopping center will offer a smorgasbord of dining options. Panda Express will be the first to open next week, followed on Oct. 9 by Chipotle and Texas Roadhouse, which is tentatively slated to open Dec. 7.

McAlister’s Deli is also tentatively slated to open in early December.

Other dining options will include Fazoli’s, Eggs Up Grill, Wing Stop, Jersey Mike’s and Tropical Smoothie.

The three anchor tenants, set on the back of the lot away from Turner McCall Boulevard will be Five Below, Kohl’s and Old Navy.

“We are excited about these businesses coming to Rome. We think they are going to be a great fit for this community,” Ledbetter said.

COVID delays have shut all three down to varying degrees. Five Below is expected to open in March of 2021. Kohl’s and Old Navy are both expected to open in September and October next year.

Ledbetter said one of the challenges his company faces is the blending of ongoing construction with the different opening dates.

Some of the smaller retail spaces are expected to be turned over to retailers in November. Most of those spaces are filled.

Ledbetter said his staff is still in negotiations with three retailers leaving about five spaces still available.

“Three of which we do have interest in right now. We believe we’re in a pretty good place leasing wise given the COVID delays,” Ledbetter said. “We believe the worst of that is behind us.”

When fully leased out, East Bend will have brought in more than 20 new retailers to the market and is expected to have created between 400 and 450 jobs.

“We’re going to be able to capture more restaurant and retail dollars that are leaving our community and we’re going to be able to draw more consumers, shoppers into Rome from across the region,” Ledbetter told the business group.

The developer encouraged the chamber group to drive through the Riverbend Center across Turner McCall Boulevard and look at the license plates to see how many of them come from outside Floyd County. He feels East Bend will have the same impact, perhaps even greater with all of the different dining options.

The new shopping center will also have some sort of memorial to the old East Rome High School which occupied the site from the 1950s into the early ’90s.

Ledbetter said his staff was working with an alumni group to finalize those plans.

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