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AUSTIN-A mid-year retail report from the Weitzman Group agrees that Austin’s retail real estate market remains healthy. The market has maintained strong occupancy, steady rental rates and continued to attract interest from retailers in the midst of an economic slowdown.

Mid-year occupancy was a shade under the 95% recorded at the end of 2001, according to Scott Freid, Austin partner-in-charge of Cencor Realty Services and its affiliate, the Weitzman Group. He says that’s the highest rate in the Lone Star state.

Rental rates also were stable, ranging from $26 per sf per year to $36 per sf per year for a small tenant for class A inline space in a well-located center. Class B rates ranged from $18 per sf to $24 per sf and class C rates, $12 per sf to $18 per sf. Freid says rates should remain stable for the rest of 2002.

Freid says developers should add one million sf to the Austin retail market this year, matching the 2001 total. A significant amount of the new space opens with tenants, which keeps occupancy rates high.

Retailers continue to make their way through Austin’s legendary development process to find places that are still attractive to put shopping centers. Freid says one of the largest projects on the drawing boards is a power center at the northeast corner of Parmer Lane and North Lamar Boulevard. Its tenants will include Toys ‘R Us. Linens ‘N Things, Ross Dress for Less, Chili’s and Johnny Carino’s.

Throughout Austin, the usual suspects continue to lead the retail parade: Wal-Mart Discount Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc., Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouses Inc., Target and Randalls continue to build new stores or expand existing ones. Kohl’s, a relative newcomer to Austin, is preparing to open its first store in the area’s southern tier this fall. Conn’s Appliances has already opened three stores this year and has a fourth set for Round Rock in November.

Retailers have been attracted by Austin’s growth from 1990 through 2000. The area’s population increased 48% to 1.2 million. Home sales continue, with starts keeping pace and existing home sales totaling 9,300 in the first half of 2002. Freid says stable employers such as the state, University of Texas and the health-care and service sectors carried the Austin economy as the technology bust lingers.

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