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SR 56 mall will be region's 2nd largest

The 100-store plaza, with 1.3-million square feet, would anchor the Cypress Creek Town Center development.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 31, 2001


WESLEY CHAPEL -- It's still months away from getting its final coat of asphalt, but State Road 56 in Wesley Chapel has already lured what promises to be the second largest shopping mall in the Tampa Bay area.

A 1.3-million-square-foot mall filled with what could be more than 100 stores would anchor the proposed Cypress Creek Town Center development at SR 56 and Interstate 75, the first interchange in Pasco County north of Tampa.

That's slightly larger than the $200-million International Plaza Mall that opened last month near Tampa International Airport. It's 1.26-million square feet. Only St. Petersburg's Tyrone Square Mall, at 1.4-million square feet, would surpass the Cypress Creek mall.

Developers include Robert "Hi" Sierra Jr., whose family built Avila, the north Tampa neighborhood that is home to many millionaires. Sierra owns most of the hundreds of acres west of Interstate 75 slated for development.

Cypress Creek Town Center also calls for 700 hotel rooms, 882 apartments, a 600,000-square-foot "retail center" across from the mall and 420,000 square feet of offices. The mall and most of the accompanying projects would be built by 2008. Developers also plan a 200,000-square-foot expansion of the mall by 2011.

SR 56, the four- to six-lane highway scheduled to open in February, splits the Sierra property.

As a development of regional impact, Sierra's project faces oversight from more than a dozen local, regional and state agencies.

On Monday, project engineer WilsonMiller Inc. submitted tentative traffic estimates to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the first of what will be a book-length amount of paperwork up for review.

Mixed-use Pasco County projects the size of Cypress Creek Town Center have recently needed about 11/2 years of governmental give-and-take before they were approved.

"Nine months to 2 years sounds about right," the council's planning director, Avera Wynne, said Tuesday.

What could be a competing mall, a proposed 1.2-million-square-foot shopping complex west of State Road 54 and U.S. 41, has become snared in governmental red tape.

Pasco planners insist the mall, named Long Lake Ranch by developers Nick and Peter Geraci, flouts the county's land-use plan that shows what development can go where.

But the two mall proposals within a few miles of each other proves that Pasco is wooing big-time retail developers after years of playing stepchild to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

In Pasco alone, more than 30,000 new homes are on the drawing boards within 10 miles of I-75 and SR 56. The Cypress Creek mall could siphon shoppers from affluent, growing neighborhoods in New Tampa to the detriment of University Mall on Fowler Avenue.

One mall stealing customers from another is nothing new in the Tampa Bay area.

Since 1991, four malls -- Floriland, Gateway, Sunshine and East Lake Square -- turned into something else.

Three regional malls -- Tampa Bay Center, Clearwater Mall and Pinellas ParkSide -- are struggling with high vacancies.

Many of their customers have flown to better-publicized malls such as Citrus Park Town Center and Brandon TownCenter in Hillsborough.

Sierra didn't immediately return a call from the Times on Tuesday.

-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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