A proposed multi-million dollar outlet mall in Robstown is one step closer to becoming a reality after county officials approved a development agreement with the project's San Antonio-based developer.

County Judge Loyd Neal and Rick Carduner, president of Dolphin Ventures I LLC, ceremoniously signed the agreement June 11 at a Nueces County Commissioners Court meeting. Dolphin Ventures is planning to build a 350,000-square-foot outlet mall, named The Outlets at Corpus Christi Bay, on about 50 acres of county-owned land adjacent to the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds.

"It's a good beginning. We've been working on this a long time and this has been a continuation that we hope to have a great final result on," Precinct 1 Commissioner Peggy Banales said after the meeting. "It's going to be a great thing for the region."

The agreement outlines the look of the facility, such as the addition of covered walkways, as well as what types of businesses may operate at the outlet mall. For instance, no bars or businesses that allow for the consumption of alcohol on the premises will be permitted.

For Dolphin Ventures, the terms of the agreement were fair and the result of nearly 18 months of negotiations.

"It's been a great process," Carduner said. "Everything is falling into place, as it should be."

Residents worried that the outlet mall will suffer the same fate as the delayed Crosstown Commons in Corpus Christi, an outdoor mall which has been scaled down due to a struggling U.S. economy, have little to worry about, Carduner said, as they are entirely different projects.

"The outlet industry, because of the economy, is actually doing quite well," Carduner said.

However, a portion of the agreement states that "development shall nevertheless occur as market forces dictate, and the timeline is subject to revision by the developer on such basis."

The current timeline is aiming for construction to begin in November, about a month after the purchase agreement is closed for the property, and be completed by November 2009. The land is still technically owned by the county until the purchase agreement is signed.

"I would say right now, we're 97 percent there," Neal said about moving towards closing out the purchase agreement.

To prove its commitment to the project, Dolphin Ventures currently has spent more than $2.5 million for about 50 acres to house its proposed outlet mall, which will have 60 to 80 retail stores. This will be the first of a two-phase project, developers said, and will cost about $60 million.

The second phase will see the addition of about 300,000 square feet on another 23 acres of land next to the existing outlet mall property, which was purchased by the developer privately without the county's involvement.

After the first phase of construction is completed, the outlet mall is expected to generate about $2 million annually in sales tax revenue for the city of Robstown. That number could balloon to about $3.5 million after the completion of the second phase of the project.

In addition, developers said the first phase of the project will result in about 160 full-time positions and more than 500 part-time positions. Developers said they expect a total of 295 full-time jobs and more than 900 part-time jobs after the second phase is completed. It is also expected to generate a projected four to five million shopping visits a year.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Chuck Cazalas said last week that he feels the fairgrounds played a pivotal role in the outlet mall's saga.

"I think the agreement for the mall is the result of the county moving ahead with the fairgrounds project," Cazalas said. "The reason for that is the fairgrounds serves as an anchor for development in this county and the outlet mall is the first, in my opnion, major development that we'll see - there will be others."

The next step for the developer will be to continue talking with potential tenants of the outlet mall.

The developer needs stores to sign letters of intent for at least 75 percent of the gross leaseable area of the project before the purchase agreement can be finalized as one of the required approvals.

Dolphin Ventures is also in discussions with the city of Robstown on a $14 million infrastructure finance agreement, which both parties hope to have finalized by August.

The tentative deal calls for the developer to be reimbursed for infrastructure work via tax revenue created by the outlet mall.