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ORLANDO-Vacant for two years, the former Daimler Chrysler auto parts distribution center site in Orlando Central Park, is being groomed as the newest power center in Central Florida, adding to the area’s 50 million-sf of existing retail space. The overall market vacancy level is 10%.

Small by power center standards, the 23.8-acre tract will house Orlando Square, a planned 191,978-sf shopping center scheduled to open in fall 2004, five minutes from the 1.6-million-sf Florida Mall, the largest retail emporium in Central and North Florida.

Area brokers tell GlobeSt.com the rumored big-box tenants will include Michael’s, the arts-and-crafts retailer based in Irving, TX; World Market of California, Cost Plus Inc.; and three other national chains. They are expected to occupy stores ranging from 15,000 sf to 30,000 sf. About 50,000 additional sf will be leased to smaller tenants and a restaurant, brokers speculate.

Ram Development Co. of Palm Beach Gardens, FL is developing the project at an estimated hard cost of $16 million on the southwest corner of Sand Lake Road and Orange Blossom Trail in the southern section of the city, a retail hot spot for the last 10 years.

That high-traffic intersection is “headed for success,” Dean Fritchen, a senior broker in the Winter Park office of Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT, tells GlobeSt.com. “This could be the start of a new trend for industrial properties that aren’t generating the sort of income their owners would like to see–they could be converted to retail.” There are several large industrial tracts west of the Florida Mall, he says.

Daimler Chrysler had occupied the Orlando Square site for 30 years. When its lease expired in 2001, the automaker decided to relocate and build a $19-million, 500,000-sf parts, warehousing and distributing plant at the 3.1 million-sf Airport International Park of Orlando.

The new retail development comes as Lord & Taylor, the May Department Stores Co. asset, announces plans to close its 120,256-sf store at the Florida Mall and six other statewide locations this year. The move is part of the company’s decision to close a total 31 Lord & Taylor sales-lagging stores.

According to data from the local office of Trammell Crow Co., Lord & Taylor occupies 140,700 sf at the Aventura Mall in North Miami; 100,188 sf at The Fashion Mall at Plantation; 110,400 sf at the Town Center at Boca Raton; 80,000 sf at Dadeland Mall in South Miami; 140,000 sf at International Plaza in Tampa; and 140,000 sf at The Mall at Wellington Green near West Palm Beach.

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