(Carl Cronan is editor of RealEstateFlorida.)

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PUNTA GORDA, FL-The Wilder Companies has received approval fromCharlotte County officials for its planned $475-million mixed-usedevelopment here. The two-million-sf project, now renamed the GreatLoop-Southwest Florida, this week received approval from countycommissioners as a development of regional impact (DRI).

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Tom Wilder, a principal of the Boston-based company, tellsGlobeSt.com that the project, while getting a warm reception fromcity and county residents, took some time to work through theprocess because of its size. The 200-acre site on Jones Loop Roadis convenient to both Interstate 75 and US 41, also known as theTamiami Trail, and will likely attract more traffic to the area asthe project is developed over the next five years.

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"The biggest issue that the county has are transportationissues," Wilder says. Those matters will be resolved through theformation of a community development district, and Wilder hasagreed to contribute a proportionate share of the costs to improveroadways leading to the project, he says.

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Construction remains on track to start early next year on theGreat Loop, which will include 1.2 million sf of retail, plus100,000 sf of offices, 200 hotel rooms and 500 residences. The$250-million retail component is scheduled to open in early2010.

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Wilder, which is also developing the 400,000-sf Loop West retailcomplex in Kissimmee, promises to bring Punta Gorda new shopping,dining, living, working and entertainment options that localresidents must now drive to nearby Fort Myers and Sarasota toexperience. The company describes its site as "the last greatuntapped market" along Florida's Gulf Coast, adding that the GreatLoop's trade area will encompass Charlotte County and neighboringparts of Lee and Sarasota counties.

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"We are so pleased to be entering this community and introducingthis concept," Wilder says. "There has been a huge void in thiscommunity."

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While Wilder has been building brand familiarity with its Loopconcept in Florida, as well as its home state of Massachusetts, thePunta Gorda project will exceed anything it has done thus far, saysAndy LaGrega, another Wilder principal. "The Great Loop goes beyondwhat came before in size, design, experience and trade area draw.We wanted the name to better reflect that," he says.

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Wilder, which has largely been involved in the retail sectorover the last 35 years, also has experience in urban street-levelretail, mixed-use projects and regional malls. Its currentportfolio includes 45 properties nationwide with another fourmillion sf under development, including the 350,000-sf Rialtoluxury mixed-use development in Orlando.

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