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MIAMI-The countywide vacancy rate in Miami-Dade shopping centers rose to 7.65% from 6.55% during the past year, according to a new market study by locally-based Terranova Corp.

At the same time, average per sf asking rents jumped to $18.27 from $14.78. Owners are presently seeking higher rents than a year ago in seven of the county’s nine retail submarkets.

Coral Gables/South Miami now claims the most expensive space at $23.87 per sf, which is close to $6.00 per sf more than a year ago. It is also the tightest market with a vacancy rate of just 1.14%. The Bird Road/Coral Way submarket’s 11.4% vacancy rate is the county’s highest.

Miami-Dade is home to 185 shopping centers, with five new centers adding a total 727,735 sf to the inventory during the past 12 months. The openings brought the county’s overall stock of shopping center space to just under 26 million sf. Based on a current population of 2.13 million, that equates to a 12:1 ratio of retail space per person and compares with the national ratio of 19:1.

Overall shopping absorption in the past year was 408,604 sf, or far less than the additional inventory. Still, developers continue to ready new projects, with seven centers currently under construction. These are mostly in the southern and western sections of the county, including Hialeah/Miami Lakes and Kendall.

Although the Coral Gables/South Miami submarket is almost fully rented, existing inventory of some 609,000 sf will more than double when the the Village of Merrick Park opens in 2002. That venture will offer 850,850 sf and include high-end anchors Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus.

Another large new center, the 1.4 million-sf Dolphin Mall, due on stream next March, is expected to sharply impact the 3.6 million-sf West Flagler submarket. While the retail vacancy rate here nearly doubled to 8.02% in the past 12 months, average per sf asking net rental rates still increased to $20.18 from $14.68.

Similarly, in Northeast Miami-Dade, negative net absorption of 16,094 sf in the last year seemed to have little or no impact on the space price spiral. Average asking net rents bounced from $13.86 per sf in 1999 to $19.75 per sf currently, making its shopping center footage the second most expensive of all the Miami-Dade submarkets.

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