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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

WINTER PARK, FL-Michael Collard Properties, a locally based commercial real estate development firm, says it plans to forge ahead with new and expanded retail projects throughout Florida despite the current economic turmoil. Its biggest project under way is a $35-million expansion of Saxon Crossings shopping center in Orange City, along the state’s east coast.

“We’re forced to keep our business going by concentrating on the bread and butter of our business, which is grocery anchored shopping centers,” Mike Rich, Collard’s chief operating officer, tells GlobeSt.com. He points out that supermarkets, pharmacies and discount stores continue to fare better than other retailers during a downturn because they sell life essentials that few people are willing to sacrifice.

Rich’s sentiments echo those of Mary Lou Fiala, president and COO of Jacksonville-based Regency Centers and chair of the International Council of Shopping Centers, who told GlobeSt.com in a March interview that consumers adjust spending during tough times. “You have shoppers who normally go to a traditional store and go to a discount store only on occasion, but now they may go to a discount store more frequently because they can get more for their money,” she said.

Saxon Crossings, a 350,000-sf retail center along Saxon Boulevard a mile west of Interstate 4, is anchored by Lowe’s and Target stores with 25,000 sf of smaller spaces being added for restaurants and services. A 45,000-sf LA Fitness center will serve as a third anchor, and will be the largest health club of its kind in Volusia County.

Collard has plans for at least 400,000 sf of lease retail development in various Florida cities, including Pensacola, Vero Beach, DeBary and Kissimmee. However, Rich says those plans have been pared by roughly a fifth because of declining sales and postponed plans by retailers to add new stores.

“It changes our business model significantly,” he says. “We’re becoming more creative with landowners to reduce their cost of carry. It’s by necessity that we’re looking under more rocks for tenants.”

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