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ORLANDO-The vacancy level of Tampa Bay’s 35.2-million-sf retail inventory has moved to 8.68%, up from 7.76% a year ago but developer interest continues to be strong as new projects head for outlying Pasco and Manatee counties, 80 miles west of Downtown Orlando.

The Orlando office of Trammell Crow Co. outlined Tampa’s retail development potential to 3,000 attendees at the International Council of Shopping Centers conference at Gaylord Palms Resort, Kissimmee, FL.

Despite a net gain of only 23,000 new jobs in 2001, Tampa Bay area’s estimated two million population is on a growth curve through 2011, the Crow report says.

“Housing units continue to outpace many metro areas across the nation and the area’s lower cost of living, coupled with its prestige as both a financial center and vacation destination, have enabled the area to prosper,” Crow research analyst Lisa M. DeVore says in the report.

The area “has prospered so much, in fact, that congestion has begun to force development outside of the periphery of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties into Pasco and Manatee counties, both of which are current development hot spots,” DeVore says.

Buffalo, NY-based Benderson Development Co. Inc., headed by Nathan Benderson, is one of the major players in Manatee County, developing 800 acres for retail/residential and redeveloping the Sarasota Outlet Mall. The mall is part of the 600-acre Cooper Creek Center, also under renovation.

Pasco County is “preparing for a development explosion as well,” DeVore says. Dallas-based Terrabrook Development plans to transform an 8,000-acre ranch near Land O’Lakes, FL into Connerton, a planned community of 7,000 homes and two million sf of stores, restaurants, commercial and industrial space.

It’s easy to see why national developers and tenants are attracted to the Tampa Bay area when average quoted rents are only $12.24 per sf to $20.20 per sf.

Vacancies are growing in each of the six submarkets monitored by Crow but only one market is in double digits.

Pinellas South, with 49 properties totaling 5.98 million sf is showing a vacancy mark of 10.07%, up from 7.73% a year ago. Northeast Hillsborough’s 29 properties total four million sf are 9.53% vacant versus 7.3% previously.

Pinellas North, with 65 retail centers totaling 8.8 million sf, is at an 8.6% vacancy level, up from 8.4%. Northwest Hillsborough is at 8.52% among its 45 properties totaling 6.833 million sf.

Southeast Hillsborough’s 37 properties totaling 5.72 million sf, shows an 8.1% vacancy, up from 6.83%. The submarket with the lowest vacancy level,is southwest Hillsborough at 6.91%, up from 6.79% a year ago.

“Retail trade has suffered, as tourism was impacted negatively by the events of last September,” researcher DeVore says.

“None of this comes as a surprise, but the biggest underlying point remains well hidden–if the economy of Tampa Bay was not as diversified as it is, the impact could have been much more severe.”

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