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Crowded aisles where cattle once roamed

Millions of square feet of orange groves, ranches and even vacant stores are being converted into commercial ventures.

Published February 15, 2004

From music stores to coffee chains to big box retailers, Pasco is preparing for an infusion of major market stores coming to the county this year.

"There's a whole universe of tenants looking to come into the market that we're working with right now," said John Dowd, senior vice president of development with the Goodman Co. in West Palm Beach.

The company has secured rights to develop nearly 2.3-million square feet in commercial parcels at Wiregrass Ranch. First up in 2004 are plans for two shopping centers in Wesley Chapel.

One, at State Road 54, will take up about 32 acres and account for 230,000 square feet of retail. The other, at the corner of State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, sits on about 36 acres and totals 170,000 square feet. "We're planning a center (there) that will possibly be expanded," Dowd said.

"Construction should start on both these projects midsummer with openings in spring 2005," he said, but declined to give names of future tenants after closing on the two tracts of land in mid January.

"We're negotiating with anchors," Dowd said, but "we're not ready to announce anything yet."

In west Pasco, construction is under way at Gulf View Square mall on a Linens 'n Things and Best Buy in the space formerly occupied by Dillard's. The music and electronics retailer is set to debut a 30,000-square-foot store at the end of March, a spokeswoman for the company said.

Meanwhile, shopping plazas in southwest Pasco will welcome restaurants such as Beef O'Brady's, stores that include Pier 1, plus a Starbucks.

Commercial growth is speeding along this year as developers continue with long-term plans to convert key central Pasco land into millions of square feet in retail space.

Projects on the horizon for 2004 include the completion of multiple storefronts at Mitchell Ranch Plaza in Trinity.

The 230,000-square-foot shopping plaza will house 31 tenants on about 53 acres, said Dianne Cotton, a leasing representative with A.I.G. Baker, the Birmingham, Ala., developer and management company behind Mitchell Ranch.

Among those coming this year to the plaza are Panera Bread and Starbucks.

Retail growth in Pasco continues to replace ranchland and orange groves in central and eastern parts of the county. Development also is in store for some west Pasco holdouts: among them a stand of groves at the corner of Little and Ridge roads that Noro Management Inc. of Atlanta is working to market as a 300,000-square-foot shopping center.

But even as new commercial projects cut a swath across Pasco, county commissioners have said the redevelopment of existing and abandoned storefronts must also remain a priority - especially in west Pasco, where parcels such as the Bayonet Point Mall site sit vacant on U.S. 19 after more than a decade.

Wal-Mart is lobbying to take over that 205,000-square-foot site near Beacon Woods, abandoned since 1990. A proposed supercenter is estimated to create 475 new jobs and nearly $3-million in new sales tax revenue per year. It also would generate significant traffic on the already overburdened route.

The proposal awaits county action after residents' opposition and a move by commissioners to limit development along U.S. 19 until traffic improvements can be assessed for the route.

Wal-Mart needs approval from the county's Development Review Committee before it can build its proposed 203,700-square-foot store on that site.

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

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