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VIERA, FL-Using a formula of intertwining local community affairs with retail sales, Atlanta-based Cousins Properties Inc. has broken ground on The Avenue Viera, a planned $57-million, 415,000-sf open-air shopping center that already is 51% reserved by national retailers.

The 58-acre project in the 40,000-acre master-planned community of Viera is expected to open in fall 2004, says Joel Murphy, president of Cousins’ retail division. About 85 merchants are expected to fill the retail space of the venture which also will include restaurants and a one-acre urban park as its centerpiece.

Retailers who have committed space to date include Belk, Rave Theaters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Talbots, Jos. A. Bank, Carlton Jewelers and Yankee Candle.

The Avenue Viera is Cousins’ fifth Avenue project. The others are The Avenue East Cobb, The Avenue Peachtree City and The Avenue West Cobb in three Atlanta suburbs; and The Avenue of the Peninsula in Rolling Hills Estates, Los Angeles County, CA.

Murphy calls the Viera undertaking “special.” He says, “The early key retailer commitments will ensure that the center appeals to a broad range of Brevard County residents, offering not only great shopping, but also entertainment, dining and even an urban park.”

Murphy says the key to Cousins’ successful Georgia and California ventures is “becoming an integral part of our surrounding community.” He says The Avenue Viera “will seek to meet that goal by giving friends a place to meet for lunch or dinner, giving families a place to spend an afternoon or evening and giving the community a place to gather.”

The Cousins leasing strategy for its Avenue-brand products includes “placing traditional mall merchants in upscale, open-air centers alongside select local merchants and specialty restaurants,” Murphy says.

Cousins’ portfolio consists of ownership interests in 13.9 million sf of office and medical space; 2.1 million sf of retail; and 300 acres of prime land for future commercial development.

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