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DALLAS-Ground breaks next week on a 106,000-sf retail center in Southeast Dallas, the first to rise in nearly a decade in a sector battling for its share of development attention so it can keep up with its neighbors.

Houston-based United Equities Inc.’s plan, carrying a price tag of $8 million to $10 million, calls for a 53,000-sf Fiesta Mart and the balance to be filled by community services and sit-down restaurants. The long-term Fiesta signing marks the 11th anchor slot that the Houston-based grocer has locked up in North Texas.

United Equities’ president and CEO Edwin “Buster” Freedman tells GlobeSt.com that he spent “four to five” years looking for enough land to do a project in the 100,000-sf range in the southeast corridor. In the past year, he’s assembled four tracts for a 12-acre site while negotiating for tax abatements, infrastructure and backing the bid for a traffic signal along Buckner Boulevard between Sceyne Road and Bearden, just south of Interstate 30.

Now, it’s time to break ground on Buckner Marketplace, a June 27 gala at 10 a.m. that will bring out the usual bevy of elected officials and most likely Mayor Laura Miller, says an aide for councilwoman Maxine Thornton-Reese who was instrumental in pushing the project to fruition. The aide says Buckner Marketplace will add $6 million in property improvements, $10 million in sales revenue and 200 new jobs.

Dallas’ south and southeastern tiers battle infrastructure problems as well as low-income labels that have pushed retail developers in other directions. The city’s made a concerted effort to improve the infrastructure so projects could and would start rolling, says David Garner, a Dallas economic development official. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he says.

Leo Hicks, Dallas’ retail development coordinator, says only one redeveloped shopping center has opened in the past decade despite the need and the neighborhood’s obvious spending power. The average median household income is $58,890 annually.

As for the pent-up demand, it is evidenced by a 5.64% vacancy in an inventory of 2.3 million sf, says Dallas-based Weitzman Group’s research director Scott Hughes. The average rental range goes from $5.85 per sf to $8.54 per sf. In sharp contrast, Dallas and its higher-income suburbs boast 95.7 million sf and rents at least double the per sf rate of Southeast Dallas.

Buckner Marketplace is a design of CDA Architects of Houston. Spring Valley Construction of Dallas is the general contractor and Winkleman & Associates, also Dallas based, the engineer. The center will be ready to occupy in first quarter 2003.

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