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Pasco creates a retail magnet

Its budding shopping landscape with diverse outlets aims to siphon shoppers from north Hillsborough County.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
Published February 14, 2005

In the 1980s, when Tampa's University Mall was drawing hundreds of thousands of shoppers to such stores as Maas Brothers and JCPenney, central Pasco County landed its first supermarket, the down-market U-Save.

Twenty years later, U-Save has been supplanted by three Publix stores, two Winn-Dixies and a pair of Kash n' Karrys. Maas Brothers went out of business. As for JCPenney, the retailer is building its latest store in central Pasco, and its future at University Mall is uncertain.

In a reversal of shopping patterns in place for decades, Pasco is poised to become a retail hub for northern Hillsborough County. It won't be long before substantial numbers of residents of New Tampa, Carrollwood and other communities head north to spend their cash.

On the flip side, Pasco residents accustomed to driving 30 minutes south to malls and strip centers in Tampa, Citrus Park and Brandon will soon swipe their credit cards closer to home.

Need proof? At least 12-million square feet of commercial development is proposed in central Pasco alone. That's room enough for 120 Wal-Marts, eight regional malls or 240 average-sized supermarkets.

The Bombay Co. has disappeared from University Mall and rematerialized at Northwood Shopping Center in Wesley Chapel.

Belk, the department store chain best known as a mall anchor, opens a standalone store in Land O'Lakes in March. Sam's Club chose Wesley Chapel, not New Tampa, for its latest store to open this spring.

Starting this year, State Road 54 in Wesley Chapel becomes the area's auto emporium with the arrival of Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan and other car dealers.

The biggest project is about three years away. The Tampa Bay region's next mall, Cypress Creek Town Center at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, wants to hit the ground with 1.3-million square feet of shops. That's bigger than the malls at Citrus Park and Brandon.

And retail chains ready to make a splash in Florida are scouting sites in Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes. Two examples are Kohl's, the discount retailer from Wisconsin, and Cabela's, the billion-dollar company than runs hunting and fishing gear superstores.

"Southern Pasco kind of inherited New Tampa development," said Frank Margarella, vice president of the New Tampa Community Council. "If you see Penneys, if you see Dillard's, if you see Kohl's in Pasco, you're going to have people in Hillsborough County going north."

It's all about the quest for the magical $1-billion.

According to a market analysis by the Washington, D.C., firm of Gould & Associates, housing growth in central Pasco and New Tampa will boost the area's collective "expenditure potential" from $561-million to $1-billion in 2008. That's how much consumers are expected to spend on retail purchases.

In the next three years, the population in the greater Wesley Chapel/New Tampa area could rise from about 200,000 to 300,000.

Projections through 2025 show 100,000 more homes displacing the orange groves and ranches of southern Pasco, most in Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel.

"The residential explosion is happening in Pasco. Northeast Hillsborough is strong but Pasco's growing much faster," said Patrick Berman, who sells commercial real estate in Wesley Chapel for Cushman & Wakefield in Tampa.

The trend could bode poorly for University Mall, a fixture on Fowler Avenue in north Tampa for 30 years.

University general manager Tom Locke sounds upbeat when discussing his mall's future. He recalls how University survived the onslaught in the 1990s of two upscale malls, Westfield Shoppingtowns in Brandon and Citrus Park.

Within a year of the arrival of both malls, after shoppers satisfied their initial curiousity, University's sales rebounded, never falling below $200-million.

Locke's mall is unique in the Tampa Bay area for drawing heavy foot traffic from surrounding neighborhoods, not to mention the shuttle buses that brought 250,000 shoppers from the University of South Florida last year. But he admits his mix of stores will continue to evolve with Pasco's ascendancy.

"The mall will change with the demand. Although we would like to see more control over it, the reality is the market will drive developments," Locke said.

Still, the signs are troubling for University. It's not just the Bombay Co. Locke suggests the future of JCPenney at University is uncertain with Pasco's store opening this year.

"Will JCPenney leave? That could happen. I don't know," Locke said.

Real estate agents Margarella and Berman speculate about the future of the University Dillard's and Burdines/Macys. The stores won't say whether they, too, plan to move north, but Pasco developers say they have talked to both of them.?

The main effect of central Pasco's transformation into a shopping destination, aside from slower traffic and visual clutter, may be growth in sales taxe s at Hillsborough's expense.

Wiregrass developers estimate they will generate $4.5-million a year in sales and gas taxes by 2020. Cypress Creek Town Center predicts a similar bonanza of cash for Pasco.

Both projects' "primary trade areas," the neighborhoods from which they expect to pull customers, extend well into New Tampa.

Similarly, the Land O'Lakes retail centers soon to emerge near SR 54 and the Suncoast Parkway - a SuperTarget and Home Depot are on the table - would draw from Carrollwood, Keystone and Odessa.

Margarella expects the wave of retailers to blur the border between Pasco and Hillsborough.

"With southern Pasco growing the way it has," he said, "it's now going to be a scenario where the heart of New Tampa is probably going to be County Line Road."

[Last modified February 14, 2005, 01:18:23]

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