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    In the Spotlight

    E-Commerce Center of Hampton a New Mixed-Use Concept with Storage, Office Space

    Tara Bozick, Daily Press Newspaper

    the walls of the three-story E-Commerce Center of Hampton at Todds Lane and Aberdeen Road are up and construction should finish at the end of August, the developer said.

    "This really is the shopping center of the 21st century," developer Bobby Freeman said. "Retail is dramatically transforming itself right now."

    The 90,000-square-foot structure in Todd Center near Big Lots will feature about 70,000 square feet of storage unit space and 15,000 square feet of flexible-leasing office space for individuals and groups, Freeman said. The ground floor will feature a UPS Store for shipping needs and eventually a business that would help folks sell items online. Freeman is coming up with the business model for an "eBay-type" sales center, including picking up items, cataloging them with photos online, selling them and shipping them, he said.

    The $13 million E-Commerce Center is targeting tenants who sell items online and need storage for inventory or who work from home, Freeman said. Tenants can use one component of the center or all of them as needed.

    The flexible leasing makes it easier for small businesses and start-ups, and caters to the seasonality of retail sales, he said. After the recession started, Freeman said he noticed it was easier to find tenants and retailers for office parks and storefronts if the spaces were smaller.

    As big-box stores have struggled amid online competition, retailers have been moving toward smaller store formats but with better storage and distribution systems. Online sales are projected to grow 8 percent to 12 percent this year over last year as more shoppers move online, according to the National Retail Federation.

    Many members of the Retail Alliance in Hampton Roads are setting up online stores to complement their storefronts, but this often requires extra space for shipping and storage, said Retail Alliance spokeswoman Kylie Ross Sibert. The E-Commerce Center could be a positive for small or mid-sized retailers that can't afford their own warehouse and could encourage brick-and-mortar stores to add an e-commerce element, she added.

    "It may also provide at-home or online-only retailers the ability to meet the increasing demand for online shopping, to improve fulfillment needs and grow their business," Sibert said.

    Most of Gloucester-based Peace Frogs' lifestyle-brand apparel and merchandise orders are done online now, founder Catesby Jones said. Peace Frogs opened up its facility to help other businesses grow as an incubator last year and still has five of the 12 spaces available.

    Consumer product businesses could bring more jobs and money to Hampton Roads through e-commerce because customers can come from outside the region and potentially across the country and world, Jones said.

    "It could explode," Jones said. "The key to it is to get people making products. What we need are people making unique products."

    Raymond Tripp, executive director of the Coliseum Central Business Improvement District, said he hopes the E-Commerce Center attracts online- or home-based businesses to the Coliseum area, where they could eventually grow large enough to expand into storefronts there.

    Demand for storage is also huge not only for residents of Coliseum Central but with military personnel moving in and out, Tripp said.

    "It fills a lot of different voids," Tripp said. "It's a unique way of looking at the future and how retail is going to operate."

    The E-Commerce Center doesn't yet have tenants but staff will start marketing and pre-leasing, along with giving tours, in the coming months, Freeman said. If it proves successful, Freeman envisions replicating it in other places.

    W.M. Jordan Co. crews broke ground on the building in August last year, he said. Freeman heads up real estate development company Tower Park Corp. and is known for developing Port Warwick in Newport News.

    "We've had a lot of interest," Freeman said.