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Battle of the malls fought at county's center

Two families and a group of investors are battling to win retail dominance in the suburban area.

Published February 15, 2004

LAND O'LAKES - In the retail no-man's land of central Pasco County, between giant malls in Citrus Park, Tampa and New Port Richey, developers want to build the biggest shopping complex of them all: Cypress Creek Town Center.

The year 2004 will reveal whether that mall wins approval at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, or whether a new mall concept emerges to serve the lucrative New Tampa/Pasco suburban market.

The Richard E. Jacobs Group announced in December it would develop a 1.5-million-square-foot mall on 100 acres at the first I-75 exit in Pasco north of Tampa.

One likely scenario has the Cleveland-based developer building a village-like open-air mall. Landscaped walkways, covered from the elements, would connect the stores.

It's not only a shopper's paradise but a tax collector's dream. The yearly tax haul from the mall and adjoining stores is projected at $8-million. Further economic benefits come from the estimated 6,000 jobs, mostly in retail.

But before any mall opens in 2007, the government will have its say. There's still the matter of the environment and highways.

Regulators cite the project's potential to pollute Cypress Creek, a stream that skirts the property's southern border and indirectly supplies Tampa with drinking water. Construction would destroy 76 acres of wetlands. Some flow into the creek.

The government also demands an accurate estimate of the future traffic. Although cars move freely on the SR 56 overpass at I-75, such ease of access won't survive tens of thousands of daily trips to the mall.

The Sierra family, which owns the mall site, expects county commissioners to approve the project this year. Government planners agree with the timetable, provided the Sierras put environmental fears to rest.

Two other landowners wait in the wings should the Sierras fail.

The Porter family, which owns the Wiregrass Ranch a couple of miles east of I-75/SR 56, has floated an open-air mall of its own through its exclusive commercial developer, the Goodman Co. of West Palm Beach.

About 10 miles farther north, at the southeast quadrant of I-75 and State Road 52, a group of investors from Atlanta own about 850 acres. Tentative plans include an outdoor mall that has attracted interest from CBL & Associates Inc., the Southeast's largest mall developer, based in Tennessee.

Whatever project triumphs - and most industry watchers bet on the conveniently placed Cypress Creek site - shopping options will explode exponentially for tens of thousands of new suburbanites pouring into Wesley Chapel, Land O'Lakes and New Tampa.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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