Lake Charles Power Center

I met Edward J. DeBartalo, the largest mall developer/owner in the country one day when he flew into Lake Charles, LA to review a 100 acre tract of property which was owned by the Sonnier Family.  As was many times in my life, I was referred to him by another developer since Mr. DeBartalo wanted to build a mall in Lake Charles, LA.  I wanted to impress him, so I called a friend of mine Don Shelter who owned the Lincoln automobile dealership in Lake Charles, LA.  Don loaned me a limousine to impress Mr. DeBartalo.  Well Gary Sonnier and I picked him up and Bill Moses who was his financial confident.  Later I presented the property and he asks that we return to Gary’s office and we agreed to a joint venture in a matter of a couple of hours and he gave us a $50,000 check for the deposit.  He would later pay us $100,000.00 per year for a five year option.  We later dissolved our partnership when he was unable to attract enough large box tenants to warrant building the mall.

I then hustled to get another developer to joint venture and I found Mel Simon who was the second largest mall developer/owner in the country.  We made a deal and he also was unable to make the mall happen.

I was living in Clearwater, FL and coming home to Louisiana I called a friend of mine, Phil Duncan, who worked at Walmart as V.P. of Purchasing and asked him if I could send him a demographic package, would he put it in the hands of the proper person to evaluate our site.  He did better than that by inviting me to come and visit him with the package.  I borrowed Tom Bechel’s airplane and through horrible rain and bad weather making it a rough ride, I made the trip to visit him.  I was fortunate to be able to visit a lot of the top personnel within Walmart.  I left and later was contacted by Dennis Carlton of Baton Rouge who was the exclusive site selector for Walmart.  In the meantime, Gary and I had formed our own joint venture and optioned the rest of the property in a 50%-50% arrangement with my company, Derek Development Corporation as developer and real estate broker for sales and leasing.

Also as this was going on, Mel Simon had purchased a front property which had an elementary school on it and now he didn’t need it, so I made him an offer to buy it.  I brought B.I. Moody, Billy Trotter and Gary Sonnier into the deal which we paid $125,000.  I designed the acreage to join into the 100 acres and we profited in excess of $750,000.00 in sales.

I decided that I would try to develop the 100 acres even though DeBartalo and Simon were not able to accomplish it.  It was hard to do but I stayed up many nights designing the center into the Power Center which differs from and ordinary shopping center in that it combines several large box retailers who under normal circumstances would stand alone.  This project started in 1990 when the concept of power centers was just on the horizon.  We called the shopping center “The Lake Charles Power Center” and upon completion it consisted of 1,000,000 square feet of retail tenants.  It stands as one of the largest such centers in Louisiana having a Walmart Super Store, (the eleventh in the Walmart chain, and the very first one in Louisiana), Old Navy, Academy Sports, Lowe’s, Shoe Carnival, Outback Steakhouse, Backyard Burger, Toys R’ Us, United Artist Theaters, Wendy’s Hamburgers, G&B Quick Lube, Logan’s Roadhoue Restaurant, Michael’s Arts & Crafts, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Johnny Carino’s, Blockbuster, Tequila’s Restaurant, Circuit City, and Goody’s.

After successfully developing one million square feet of retail shopping center, Gary and I decided to dissolve our partnership in 2001 and nothing was developed since my departure.  It may have been a sign of the times or the fact that he never got another developer involved.

We had also built a 128,000 sq. ft. strip shopping center for about $7,000,000.00 including land.  We owned and operated it for about 2 years then sold it to a developer/investor from New York for approximately $10,000,000.  We sold it in a soft market and considered ourselves fortunate, due to the financial climate.

I rank this as my greatest business/development accomplishment on the basis that I did it my way and did all of it on my own with a staff of three people.  However, I should admit that it was totally exhausting both mentally and physically.