There's a grand new plan emerging for the mostly barren Cedar Grove redevelopment site in Eagan: an upscale outlet mall.

City officials gave enthusiastic approval last week to a pitch from Baltimore-based Paragon Outlet Partners, which seeks to build a 400,000-square-foot, open-air mall. Ninety to 100 stores would cover the swath of land south of Hwy. 13 and east of Cedar Avenue.

"I'm encouraged," Mayor Mike Maguire said. "I think it takes very good advantage of the assets of the Cedar Grove location. It also has the opportunity to put Eagan on the map in a different way than it is right now."

The proposal still must wind its way through the city approval process over the next 12 to 18 months. The approval by council members, acting as the economic development authority, allows the city and developers to begin negotiations around the land purchase. If all requirements are met, there would likely be 15 months of construction before the outlet opens.

But the excitement was obvious, especially from City Council Member Cyndee Fields, a professed outlet shopper who gasped when representatives of Paragon Outlets listed some of the tenants at their other properties across the country: Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth, Michael Kors and Tommy Bahama.

"I love the idea," Fields said. "I've always been a big supporter of retail. We need it."

The outlet complex would be a huge step in the redevelopment of the Cedar Grove area, a controversial project that has been more than a decade in the works. It has been dragged through legal battles over the city's use of eminent domain and stymied by the down economy. Plans for the area have evolved over the years but generally called for a mixed-use development, with varying degrees of retail, office, hotel and residential space, connected by walkable, nicely manicured streets and public gathering spaces.

The Paragon Outlets proposal, estimated at about $100 million, including two surface parking lots and a two-story parking garage, would cover about 35 acres of the roughly 65-acre Cedar Grove redevelopment area. Cedar Grove Parkway, recently reconstructed by the city, would be rerouted to jog south around the development, separating the mall area from homes.

The city is keen to find someone interested in developing a strip of commercial property along the southern edge of the outlet development to serve as a screen between the neighborhood south of Cedar Grove Parkway and the parking garage on the north side of the street.

About a dozen Eagan residents attended the meeting, but only one raised a question -- about outdoor malls and winter weather.

Others submitted comments to the city asking about plans for a long-promised park in the Cedar Grove area. The proposal would move the park from the center of the redevelopment area to the southern edge, somewhat closer to residents, who urged the city to make those improvements as soon as possible.

The mall proposal is the second big retail project pitch in Eagan this spring, coming just weeks after CSM Properties unveiled plans to redevelop the Lockheed Martin site as a 500,000-square-foot "lifestyle center" with 30 to 40 shops and restaurants by 2014.

The City Council had raised questions about the ability of the local market to support new retail development. A consultant's study said the Eagan area is underserved, with capacity for up to 940,000 square feet of additional retail space.

That same consultant, queried about the outlet proposal, said it was a different type of property and would complement, not compete with, the new development at the Lockheed Martin site.

Representatives of Paragon Outlets said that Cedar Grove's proximity to another major shopping attraction -- the Mall of America -- would just add to the area's appeal as a shopping destination, just a short bus ride away when the Cedar Avenue transitway opens.

"We actually think the Mall of America would be a positive for us," said R. Kelvin Antill of Paragon Outlet Partners. "There's a nice synergy there."

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286