Watermark Clearance Center
The $19 million center was developed on behalf of the West Jefferson Amusement and Public Park Authority by the Greensboro, North Carolina-based CMC Group, headed by Colin Coyne. The authority leased the land to CMC for $1 a year in exchange for an agreement to receive 4% of gross receipts from the center. Coyne moved his company to western Jefferson County during the development of the project.
Mayor of Fairfield Larry Langford, who chaired the authority, predicted that the successful opening of the center would enable it to secure a line of credit important to the amusement park's survival. He had previously expressed hopes the outlet center's successful completion would enable construction of a proposed $72 million VisionQuest Aquarium near Dolonah Quarry Lake. Another planned development, Harold Gilchrist's Entertainment Zone, was to have added a 14-screen cinema, 40-lane bowling alley and a jungle-themed restaurant to the area.
The town of Vance, which was also looking for the development of an outlet center, filed a lawsuit to prevent the authority from subsidizing a retail development. The suit was unsuccessful.
Originally to be called the VisionLand Outlet Center, the name was changed in order to reduce the possibility that customers would assume the center was closed during the park's off-season. Due to slow leasing, financing from Colonial Bank was withdrawn during construction, causing work to stop until Wachovia Bank agreed to continue funding the project. The T.E. Stevens Construction Company built the center. The original opening date of October 1999 was pushed December, then to April 2000, then to Labor Day, and eventually to November.
WaterMark Place opened with 28 stores on November 11, with Fairfield mayor Larry Langford helping direct traffic at the entrance. Several other outlets opened in the weeks following. Initial sales figures through the holiday season were impressive. Though business dropped off in the Spring, the center, managed by Kathy Morris, boasted 34 stores and an estimated $29 million in sales after its first year. A food court was added in July.
In 2003, construction of the Cedar Hill Interchange provided direct access to VisionLand Parkway from I-20/59. In 2004 Bayer Properties became the center's leasing agent. CapitalSource Finance LLC of Maryland purchased the outlet center from CMC Group in 2005. After the city of Bessemer declined to provide $12.5 million in cash incentives for a proposed 280-room luxury hotel in 2007, a potential suitor who would have expanded the outlet mall backed out. It also became clear that the planned entertainment district nearby was not going to be built.
In 2008 the opening of the Colonial Promenade Tannehill shopping center provided competition for customers while Daniel Corporation's $127 million Shops of Grand River, which opened two years later, lured many outlet retailers away. Automobile dealer Anthony Underwood purchased the center in October 2009 and announced plans to introduce offices and event facilities, transforming the site into a mixed-use development. He held an open house for potential tenants in March 2010 and launched a Saturday farmers market that June. Underwood's event center included 30,000 square feet of space in eight separate spaces.
That Spring a UAB School of Business class took on WaterMark Place as a class project. They were optimistic about the potential of special events such as a women's expo, barbecue cookoff, and health fair to generate foot traffic. Around the same time, Underwood discussed plans to use the mall as a state-wide visitors center, showcasing items from around the state alongside family-style cultural attractions.
The site was also used as a staging area by Alabama Power immediately following the April 2011 tornado outbreak. Underwood subsequently offered vacant storefronts at the mall to businesses displaced by the tornadoes.
This list is out of date.
- Tomberlin, Michael (August 16, 1998) "Outlet enthusiasm: Obstacles don't worry outlet mall developer." The Birmingham News
- Pierce, Phil (July 9, 1999) "Shops to underwrite aquarium: VisionLand's new outlet center anchors plan to build VisionQuest." The Birmingham News
- Pratt, Ted (September 23, 1999) "VisionLand's outlet center will be colorful and upscale." The Birmingham News
- Plott, Bill (January 6, 2000) "Outlet mall may open Labor Day." The Birmingham News
- Goldman, Adam (April 21, 2000) "Outlet mall fell short of leases bank officer says: CMC Group couldn't sign enough retailers." The Birmingham News
- "VisionLand mall developer finds financing" (June 1, 2000) The Birmingham News
- Nesbitt, Charles (September 20, 2000) "Outlet mall resets opening, drops "VisionLand" from name." The Birmingham News
- Goldman, Adam (November 12, 2000) "Outlet mall comes together: Builders, retailers rush toward debut on Saturday." The Birmingham News
- Gordon, Robert K. (November 19, 2000) "Shopper swarm new outlet: WaterMark Place opens 28 stores." The Birmingham News
- Bryan, Kim (December 20, 2000) "Shopping magnet WaterMark Place getting high marks from shoppers." The Birmingham News
- Couch, Frank (November 7, 2001) "WaterMark greets first birthday with goals beaten, growth planned." The Birmingham News
- Tomberlin, Michael (March 28, 2004) "Bayer Inc. to lease out VisionLand area mall." The Birmingham News
- Gorden, Robert K. (September 25, 2008) "Sluggish economy, store closures, stalled expansion swamp WaterMark Place, but Bessemer retail center stays afloat." The Birmingham News
- Kent, Dawn (August 23, 2009) "WaterMark may face Waterloo: New outlet mall, tough economy may take toll on Bessemer center." The Birmingham News
- Williams, Roy L. (October 31, 2009) "Dealer pins hopes on WaterMark Plans to transform retail center." The Birmingham News
- Williams, Roy L. (March 12, 2010) "Owner of Bessemer's WaterMark Place aims for different mix." The Birmingham News
- Tomberlin, Michael (June 13, 2010) "Developer has grand plans for the largely empty WaterMark Place in Bessemer." The Birmingham News
- Tomberlin, Michael (July 6, 2010) "Students offer suggestions to revive struggling mall." The Birmingham News
- Tomberlin, Michael (May 8, 2011) "Retail centers open to displaced businesses." The Birmingham News
- Hrynkiw, Ivana (February 20, 2017) "Company to rebrand, open clearance center at Watermark Place in Bessemer." The Birmingham News
- Watermark Place events center website