Oglethorpe Square shopping center has some believing that Hinesville could soon be "the biggest little city in Georgia."
County officials and community members attended the grand opening and ribbon cutting for Oglethorpe Square Friday afternoon and people wasted no time shopping.
Customers went in and out of open stores as county officials talked about the development of the center and what it means for the area.
As of Friday, Dick’s Sporting Goods, LongHorn Steakhouse, Hobby Lobby and PetSmart were open. TJ Maxx opens today and Hobby Lobby has its grand opening Monday.
Kenneth Howard, executive director of the Hinesville Development Authority, said the shopping center developed because of "progressive leadership."
"We were approached by developers who were looking to do something of this magnitude, perhaps not at this level initially and there were some gaps, as far as funding something of this magnitude," Howard said. "And we quickly realized the benefits were too great to ignore. So as a result, we formed a public-private partnership and we were able to bring this to Hinesville. We realized that this would be a win-win situation for Hinesville, Liberty County and the surrounding areas."
Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown called Oglethorpe Square "the new epicenter of the community," and said it was the largest retail development in the city’s history.
Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, remembered when Tastee Freeze was the first fast food restaurant in Hinesville and how "everybody flocked there."
He also commended the public-private partnership.
"It’s popular now to beat up the government, but government has a role," Williams said. "It is when both sides recognize the role of the other and things work better and smoothly. What a future we have in Hinesville, Liberty County. I’m excited about our future. We continue to grow and continue to be able to work together."
Justin McCartney, chairman of HDA, said he came to Hinesville in the 1980s, and "saw the city dwindle, but persevere" because of a deployment. He is optimistic about the city’s future.
Donald Lovette, chairman of the Liberty County Commission, said the community is "ripe" for development for several years.
"We’re here to celebrate unparalleled commercial growth for Hinesville and all of Liberty County and for that you know I got to say it, ‘I’m Liberty County proud.’"
Leah Poole, executive director of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a lawmaker asked her during Third Infantry Division Day in Atlanta, if Liberty County officials work well together. She said, "Yes they do. Everybody works this well together."
Citing the axiom, "Business draws more business," Jamey Flegal, director of real estate for Hutton Construction, said, "Without the spine and courage of TJ Maxx, this development would not be a reality. With TJ Maxx we got Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby got PetSmart and collectively they got Dick’s Sporting Goods, and from that we got ULTA."
Hutton is the project’s developer.
Flegal said the business he’s most proud to bring to Hinesville, after TJ Maxx, is Chick-Fil-A.
He talked about HDA and former Mayor Jim Thomas’ vision for the development and thanked Howard for his leadership on the project.
When it was Thomas’ turn to speak, he asked the women in the audience to stand up. He said the development happened because women want to shop in Hinesville.
"When I first got elected that was one of the first things said," Thomas said. "So ladies you now have your shopping in Hinesville."
Ian Smith, real estate developer and president of Knightswood, Inc., was honored with a key to the city. He was unable to attend to accept the award.
Smith has tried to develop a shopping center for 10 years, later became a partner with HDA and introduced Hutton Construction to the authority. Howard said Smith was a "catalyst for putting people in place for the public-private partnership."