By Greg Markley

Opelika Observer

In an “Observer” article in May 2013, Michael Fimiani, president of Fimiani Development Corporation, was enthusiastic about his efforts to rebrand and revitalize the former Midway Plaza at 3700 Pepperell Parkway.

He still is: Only a handful of the 206,000 square feet of prime retail space remains unrented at what is now called Saugahatchee Square.

“It’s a whole new day, a Renaissance,” said the ebullient Fimiani last week. “We’re doing well, adding Porter Paints, the chiropractor Dr. Park, the J. Maxwell Salon, CrossFit which is under construction, Unwired in a new location detached from the main building and a free-standing Guthries restaurant. The vehicle and foot traffic is certainly increasing. But we have a few big spaces left.”

City Council President Eddie Smith analyzed the business climate in the area and said there is plenty of room to grow. “I certainly think that the Opelika-Auburn and greater Lee County area has adequate population to support another shopping center regardless of the amount of business being done at TigerTown and Village (now Auburn) Mall. The key is to get a ‘Big Box’ or several smaller but popular store fronts to attract business. But Saugahatchee Square has not had a ‘draw’ for quite some time.”

An Opelika native, Smith recalled that the demise of Midway Plaza began with the building of the all new “contained” Village Mall. In rapid order, stores such as Sears, JC Penney and Gayfer’s moved to the new facility. Yet today he is encouraged to see movement toward open aired shopping centers such as Tiger Town.

“This movement should boost the confidence of the owners and developers of the ‘new’ Midway Plaza,” explained Smith, who is president of AuburnBank’s branch in Opelika. “While I am no expert on revitalization of a strip center, I think the current owners have done a great job so far and I compliment them on taking this chance.”

Fimiani was a founding partner of Woolbright Development in Boca Raton, Fla. Between 1999 and 2007, he was involved in 48 shopping center redevelopments that totaled more than $1 billion in value. He made his foray into Lee County mostly for sentimental reasons: He was urged to develop the Opelika shopping center by two Auburn University graduates – his wife and his mother.

Mayor Gary Fuller, like Smith, has praised the hard work and success of Fimiani and his associates. Smith said, “Mr. Fimiani is a visionary and will, in my opinion, make this project successful. He will eventually find an anchor and then the smaller stores that are there or considering coming will be much more motivated to start up or relocate.”

Fimiani visits Opelika every three weeks to check on developments.

Misty Patterson manages the Square property and is the onsite leasing agent for Fimiani Development Corporation. She oversees vendor coordination, leasing, tenant relations and construction management.

“I want this shopping center to be full of tenants in 12 months,” Fimiani said recently.

To do that, he will have to ride the waves of the economy and attract a company that will buy the old theater, which is huge and has its movie seats intact.

But based on his performance thus far, some might say it would be unwise to bet against Fimiani.