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CORAL GABLES, FL-The Village of Merrick Park is being built by an affiliate of Columbia, MD-based Rouse Co. on a 20-acre site between LeJeune Road and Ponce de Leon Boulevard, immediately north of South Dixie Highway.

The centerpiece will be an 850,000-sf open-air, Mediterranean-style upscale retail center anchored by Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus. But there will be much more to the complex.

Also slated is a five-story building with 110,000 sf of class A office and 25,000 sf of ground-floor retail. Named this week to handle the office leasing was USAA Realty Co., the Arlington, VA-headquartered subsidiary of the USAA insurance and financial services firm. The USAA unit is also leasing the 263,000-sf Columbus Center office project, in Coral Gables as well.

Site work has commenced on the retail section of Merrick Park, with ground-breaking on the office building scheduled by year end. Also planned for the parcel are twin luxury apartment buildings. Project components will begin delivery in 2002.

Retail rents in Coral Gables have recently been averaging $31.50 per sf, by far the most expensive in Miami-Dade, according to Trammell Crow Co. But the store vacancy rate is also the highest at 15.7%. Local office rents average $24.49 per sf, and the vacancy rate is 7.12%.

Retail rents in the Kendall submarket only average $14.77 per sf but the store vacancy rate is just 2.2%, which may be encouraging Rouse to pursue development of Kendalltown Center.

Preliminary plans for a 158-acre parcel between SW 88th and SW 96th Streets in West Kendall have already been OKd by Miami-Dade’s Planning Advisory Board and are now being reviewed by the appropriate state agencies.

Although the anchor element will be a 1.35 million-sf shopping mall, the Kendalltown plat also sets aside land for constructing 400,000 sf of offices, 200 units of seniors housing, a 2,400-seat movie multiplex and a 200-room hotel.

Already home to Dadeland Mall and the more recently completed nearby Dadeland Center, Kendall is seen as growing to the point where it could accept a development as large as Kendalltown.

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