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PINAL COUNTY, AZ-In what is fast becoming the outer reaches of Phoenix’s suburbs, a “retail renaissance” is taking place as developers scramble for a foothold in a market that within the next few years is destined to grow into a small city.

Pinal County, about an hour’s drive southeast from the state capital, has become the latest focus for commercial developers who envision its growth to soar as residents head out of the suburbs in search of cheaper housing. With 30,000 to 40,000 homes expected to be constructed in the area, developers are already laying claim to prime retail corners.

At Johnson Ranch, a 2,000-acre community where developer Sunbelt Holdings will build 6,000 homes, commercial developers are planning to break ground on two major shopping center projects that will put more than 125,000 sf of retail, commercial and office space on the market. “This is an area that has really taken off in growth,” Curt Smith, Sunbelt Holdings’ COO, tells GlobeSt.com. “In an area where people have had to drive six to eight miles to get services, (the shopping plazas) will be a wonderful amenity.”

Symphony Builders is expected to begin construction next month on one of the area’s first shopping outlets, Bella Vista Village neighborhood center. Located on 3.7 acres at Hunt Highway and Bella Vista Road, the center, which is slated to open by the end of the year, will include a 25,000-sf anchor and two additional pads with 3,600 sf and 3,900 sf and feature a mix of retail, office and restaurant spaces.

A second center, to be called Johnson Ranch Marketplace, will be situated 13.3 acres on the intersection’s southeast corner of the intersection. Anchoring that site, owned by LDR-Johnson Ranch LLC will be a 64,000-sf Fry’s Food & Drug Store along with a mix of retail, restaurant and office space that will be situated in an 18,494-sf building and five pads sized from 5,000 sf to 6,500 sf. That project is expected to break ground this summer with opening scheduled for early 2004.

A third commercial project is in the planning stages for the northwest corner of the intersection. The costs of the projects were not available.

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