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ORLANDO-Orlando is the nation’s hottest retail growth area based on percentage change, jumping to a No. 1 ranking from ninth position in the 1996-2001 period, researchers from the Orlando office of Trammell Crow Co. told 3,000 delegates attending the International Council of Shopping Centers conference at the Gaylord Palms Resort, Kissimmee, FL.

Orlando is expected to maintain that ranking through 2006, according to Crow’s 24-page special study. Austin, ranked No. 1 previously, is No. 2. Phoenix, No. 2 previously, is No. 3.

Metro Orlando’s four-county population of 1.7 million represents a 37% growth over the past 10 years and is the area’s greatest strength, the study says. Metro Orlando’s population is expected to grow another 11% over the next five years.

The study is bullish on Orlando’s transportation arteries, an arguable issue by various city segments who contend the city’s main roads are choked and invite financial and personal disaster.

“Improvements to major roadways, including the addition of the Western Beltway, have improved traffic flow through the area and a major restructuring of Interstate 4 is scheduled,” Lisa M. DeVore, Crow’s research analyst, says in the report.

Other cities making the top 10 list are Fort Myers, FL, No. 4, up from No. 18; Las Vegas, No. 5, up from No. 10; Tampa, FL, No. 6, up from No. 14; Fort Worth, TX, No. 7, down from No. 5; San Diego, CA, No. 8, up from No. 20; Albuquerque, NM, No. 9, up from No. 27; and Atlanta, No. 10, down from No. 5.

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