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(Crystal Proenza is associate editor of Real Estate Florida.)

[IMGCAP(1)]PLANTATION, FL-As part of the City of Plantation’s Midtown District development plan, 321 North, an $800-million mixed-use community, has received master plan approval by the City Council. Developer US Capital Holdings Group will begin redeveloping the former Plantation Fashion Mall at 321 N University Drive and building 550,000 square feet of retail, 613,000 square feet of office and up to 590 residential units on the site.

The Miami office of ADD Inc. is the architecture on the project, and has recently taken on a second mixed-use development within the Midtown district—the Fountains, a 415,000 square-foot community shopping plaza with a 478-unit rental structure. That project, located at University Drive and SW 78th Street, is being developed by American Land Ventures.

Jonathan Cardello, principal of ADD Inc. and project executive for the Fountains and 321 North, says this is a great example of a municipality stepping up to make development possible. “The City of Plantation has been instrumental in finding unique solutions in order to ensure they coexist with the city in a positive way,” he tells GlobeSt.com. For example, the city worked with the 321 North team to create extended entitlements for the residential units to wait until the market conditions are stronger, he explains.

Both projects are being designed in conjunction with the city to reflect its vision for Plantation Midtown, a walkable Main Street-type center that, according to its website, is already home to more than 50 Fortune 500 companies including DHL, American Express and Tradestation. The submarket is in the center of South Florida and enjoys average asking rents of $23.98, up 8.6% over last year, with a vacancy rate of 5.7%, according to a third-quarter Broward County shopping center report by CB Richard Ellis.

[IMGCAP(2)]Richard Tarquinio, senior vice president of retail investments at CBRE in Miami, points to the fact that both projects involve redevelopments of older structures in place within Plantation. The Fountains, he says, is being re-tenanted and re-merchandised, with the addition of a 90,000-square-foot Kohl’s. The DDR-owned retail component, The Shoppes at the Fountains, is currently in the pre-construction phase and the new residential construction is under way. According to ADD Inc.’s Cardello, the project is fully financed.

The 321 North development is also utilizing existing structures, including parts of the Fashion Mall, an adjacent parking facility and a seven-story office building that will be completely renovated. An existing 268-room Sheraton Hotel on the site has also recently undergone renovation. The existing office building is scheduled to be complete in 2009, with the retail component slated to open in 2011 and new office towers expected to be complete by 2012.

Brian Wilson, US Capital’s general counsel, says the project has also had a lot of demand from the restaurant sector in terms of pre-leasing. “The office use is key to a sustainable mixed development,” he adds. In June, GlobeSt.com reported that Muvico Entertainment LLC had agreed through a letter of intent to bring a 14-screen theater to the development. Overall, 321 North is expected to increase tax revenue by $2 million per year and create approximately 3,700 new jobs. The project is still in the financing stage working with lenders, says Wilson.

CBRE’s Tarquinio says the Plantation Midtown project is similar to efforts being made by cities across the country to create work-live-play environments. Speakers at this year’s Urban Land Institute fall meeting in Miami Beach pointed to the creation of core gathering spaces as vital to retail development in the future. Panelists at a retail session on open-air centers said roughly 90% of all development in the country has been big box centers or high rise buildings, and yet more than 50% of the population craves the presence of a mixed-use urban core. The City of Plantation is working to satisfy those statistics with its Midtown concept.

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