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DALLAS-With 50,000 housing starts to support the play, retail developers have stumbled onto a new game plan that has national, regional and local names opening more and more locations to keep pace with Dallas/Fort Worth’s growth.

“What is the saturation point? That’s the $64,000 question,” says Bob Young, managing director of brokerage services for locally based Weitzman Group. “What’s happening in the marketplace is there are regional retail districts that are popping up across the metroplex that are changing the dynamics of the shopping center business.”

Young tells GlobeSt.com that the trickledown effect is retail names, old and new, must find creative ways to differentiate themselves as they tweak lines to suit suburban, urban and mall locations. Even a stalwart like the Bentonville, AR-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has introduced an upscale store in a Dallas test market. Similar strategies are being put into play by grocery chains, with the likes of Kroger lining fresh-food shelves with organic produce to go head-to-head with the Central Markets and Whole Foods of the world. “At the end of the day, what it’s doing is forcing everyone to get better in terms of location, merchandising, customer service and customer experience,” Young says.

It’s not that more retail space than usual is rising in the metroplex; it’s right on par with its historical numbers–3.5 million sf. “Construction is in line with demand and definitely balanced,” says Ian Pierce, Weitzman’s research director. Overall occupancy is projected to dip just one point to 88.5% by year’s end despite the construction pace and 1.6 million sf that’s about to go dark when Albertsons shutters 10 stores and Super Savers darkens 11 more boxes.

The density factor is driving shopping centers and their tenants to change. “Go to one location,” Young says, “and everybody’s there. They have become convenient.”

With more than 20 regional malls in Dallas/Fort Worth, that means those owners too have to find a new hook. In many cases, it’s a full-body overhaul like what happened this year at NorthPark Center. Or even the Galleria selling a hotel tract to a high-rise condo developer to put residents right on the doorstep.

With no natural barriers to impede development, Dallas/Fort Worth’s growth pattern also has changed. “The growth no longer is limited to one direction. It’s going north, east, south, west and all point in between,” Young says. “There are no real restrictions for growth.”

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