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JACKSONVILLE, FL-With a growing population of 1.5 million, this North Florida metro area is attracting name retail developers and national merchants to a turf where Super Bowl XXXIX is scheduled for 2005.

It’s also an area where overall occupancy in a 16.5-million-sf market is 92.8% and retail rents are approaching $30 per sf. “That’s high for this market and generally perceived to be the ceiling,” T. Andrew Hawkins, a vice president in the Orlando office of Trammell Crow Co., told a record 3,600 delegates attending the 2003 Florida Conference of the International Council of Shopping Centers in Orlando last week.

Rental rates for retail space in highest demand range from $16 per sf to $20 per sf. The average asking rent is $13 per sf. National developers such as Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, Ben Carter Properties of Atlanta and CBL & Associates Properties Inc. of Chattanooga, TN already are planning market share slices for themselves, Hawkins says.

For example, Carter and Simon plan to open the first phase of St. Johns Town Center at St. Johns Buff Road and J. Turner Butler Boulevard in 2005, the same year the Super Bowl is scheduled to be played here. Major tenants negotiating leases include Target, Barnes & Noble and Dillard’s.

CBL already has opened its 260,000-sf center at State Road 312, west of US 1. The anchors are Publix, Ross, Michael’s, Bealls and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Wal-Mart, Target and Lowe’s continue to scout for new sites. Wal-Mart plans new stores at Kendall Town Center in suburban Mandarin; at its existing site at San Joe Boulevard and Interstate 295; at Atlantic Boulevard and Kernan Boulevard in suburban Yulee, FL; and at Beach Boulevard at Kernan Boulevard.

Target has opened its first North Florida SuperTarget on Wells Road in the Orange Park submarket. The Minnesota-based retailer is also looking at a new site in the Westside submarket on US 17 in Venetia, FL and on the Beach Boulevard corridor, Hawkins told ICSC delegates.

“While one of the larger metropolitan areas in Florida, Jacksonville continues to be a quiet retail investment market,” the Trammell Crow executive says. Only seven properties were reported sold in the last 12 months.

The most recent sale was the 145,565-sf Pablo Plaza in Jacksonville Beach. Phillips Eidson paid Aegis Realty Inc. $8.24 million, or about $57 per sf, for the center. Hawkins says the price per sf in the metropolitan market this year ranges from $39.56 per sf to $103.56 per sf. “The occupancy rate of all centers sold has been high,” the broker says.

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