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Growth is luring national retailers

Shoppers will soon be able to skip those long trips to Tampa or Port Richey.

Published February 18, 2007


Port Richey? North Tampa?

Who needs 'em?

Not us. Not anymore.

The Coastal Landing development across from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on State Road 50 is looking like the epicenter of Hernando County retail. The new, 18-acre, 151,000-square-foot shopping area is set to have a roster of retailers that includes anchor stores Marshalls, Michaels, Petco, Panera Bread, Linens 'n Things and Old Navy.

These are the kinds of national biggies that until now have meant drives down U.S. 19 to Gulf View Square mall in Port Richey or down the Suncoast Parkway to Westfield Citrus Park in Tampa.

Even with the relative residential slowdown, Hernando is still growing, and retail follows rooftops - as county business development director Mike McHugh likes to put it, "heads in beds."

"When you get to certain population levels, you start showing up on the radar screens of more and more retail and restaurant folks," SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast chief executive Jim Kimbrough said.

"You name it," he said, "and it's all starting to appear on that strip."

"These retailers, these are all places Hernando countians have been chomping at for years," Brooksville Coldwell Banker broker Gary Schraut said. "They've just been doing it in Pasco County. The more they can shop here, the less people have to drive to Pasco and Tampa."

"We're going to pull in that Citrus County market, too," longtime Realtor Jeanne Gavish said. "I believe hordes of people from Homosassa and Crystal River will come down here. That 50 corridor is going to be the main hub for retail."

Not everything is ready to make a home in Hernando.

The Starbucks said to be coming to the new Publix plaza in Brooksville is still just talk. The R.J. Gators that was to come to SR 50 fell through, said Jim Samuel, the restaurant chain's vice president. And a major bookstore? Forget it. Not Barnes & Noble, not Borders, not even Books-A-Million.

But 2006, of course, was the year Carrabba's finally came to the county, and the Italian food chain opened on SR 50 in the fall to much fanfare and long waits for tables.

Holiday Inn Express opened one hotel on SR 50 and another one on U.S. 19.

And the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce added an average of about 30 members a month, said Pat Crowley, the executive director - and most of those were small business owners. So the retail boom isn't just huge national names.

Now, early in 2007, maybe the move-ins aren't arriving at the frenzied, exponential rate they were at this time a year ago, but Hernando's population at the beginning of the year was about 167,000, according to monthly estimates from the county's Planning Department. That's still up nearly 70,000 from the 1990 census and almost 40,000 since 2000.

McHugh's office calls Hernando the geographic center of Florida and bills it as the "Business Gateway to Tampa Bay."

Coastal Landing might as well be at the center of that center. New Plan is the development company in charge, and the market profile study on its Web site shows why these folks are building here: In the 5-mile radius from Coastal Landing, the population in 2000 was 46,866 and 60,119 in 2006. It's projected to be 72,786 by 2011. The median household income has risen and is expected to continue to do that.

The other day at the building site, there were men in hard hats, dirt movers, steamrollers, backhoes, bulldozers, tall piles of dirt and the skeletal concrete block walls of Old Navys and Petcos and Paneras to come.

Linens 'n Things is one of the nation's biggest, most popular home accessory stores. It's scheduled to open in June.

Petco is a leading pet food, supplies and services outlet, and the one in Hernando will have a full grooming salon. It's scheduled to open in August.

"We've got a huge team working on finding new locations, and we definitely like to get into growing areas," Petco spokeswoman Rachel McLennan said. "We want to get in there so we can serve all those people moving into the area."

Also at Coastal Landing: Old Navy is the top seller in the Gap clothes conglomerate, Michaels is the world's largest arts and crafts store, and Panera is a growing chain of cafes.

"And we are currently speaking with other national tenants that have expressed an interest," said Stacy Slater, a spokeswoman for New Plan.

"They're smart," Gavish said, "and they have people with sharp pencils who study this. They have numbers they have to meet in order to justify breaking into a market area."

"The population," Tommie Dawson Realty broker Buddy Selph said, "we've just gotten to a critical mass to the point where those stores can be supported now."

So what does this all mean on the ground in Hernando?

It means fewer drives down 19.

It means fewer tolls paid on the Parkway.

"It means," Gavish said, "I don't have to travel to New Tampa for Panera Bread anymore."

[Last modified February 17, 2007, 19:03:10]

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