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Retail growth plans halted by economy

An economic recovery some see coming in 2010 may seem a long way off, but it triggered late-night sweats among developers eager to start building $435-million in local retail projects slated to open by then.

A 2010 opening means construction must start in 2009 for projects with an all-clear from government planners. Yet the credit crunch, frugal shoppers and skittish retailers have stalled the retail boom along the Interstate 75 corridor east of Tampa south to Sarasota.

A growing crowd is waiting for the clouds to part.

Prime Outlets Ellenton put its 30-store, $35-million expansion on indefinite hold. Benderson Development stalled the start of University Towne Center at University Parkway in Sarasota, which is to be anchored by Nord­strom, Macy's and Neiman Marcus, until a 2011 or later opening after Neiman asked to wait. SouthShore Commons, a $200-million, outdoor big box store and Main Street-style center that was to start this spring at I-75 and Big Bend Road in Riverview has been delayed to a 2011 opening.

"We've got Nationwide Realty as a partner, so it's not about the money," said Jay Miller, vice president of Cincinnati developer Equity Inc. "It's the economy, and at the request of two of our anchor retailers."

Barry Diller's pockets jingle all the way

Barry Diller's 13-year reign at St. Petersburg-based HSN made him a billionaire. The onetime Hollywood mogul used the TV shopping network as launchpad for relentless wheeling and dealing that created his e-commerce empire IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Shareholders didn't fare well with a return on investment of only 1.3 percent in 2007, but Diller came out in clover. He walked off with $184-million in compensation, mainly through stock grants and options. That was good enough to rank him as second-highest-paid CEO in the United States and Canada, according to an annual ranking from researchers at Corporate Library, right behind Oracle's Larry Ellison with $192-million.

It marked the third year in four that Diller made the top 10.

Diller's compensation equaled 2.9 percent of all IAC revenue. Add in his payout from Expedia Inc., the online travel Web site IAC spun off in 2007, and Diller would have been No. 1 again with $437-million.

Clock ticks down but shoppers stall in malls

Malls were jammed over the weekend. But with nine shopping days left until Christmas, people report spending less and are behind last year's pace stocking up for the holiday. Only 8 percent of shoppers are finished, while 41-million shoppers have yet to start. That's according to National Retail Federation research that found more people (66 percent) paying cash or using debit cards to spurn credit cards.

As if there weren't already enough factors conspiring against retailers, a false fire alarm interrupted the late afternoon action at International Plaza on Saturday.

See's Candies fans get sweet opportunity

Floridians hailing from out West have long claimed See's Candies is tops. Except for a store in Chicago, the candies aren't regularly found east of the Mississippi. Fans get such a craving for the chocolates that the San Francisco company owned by Warren Buffett set up shop with holiday season kiosks at area malls for the eighth year.

The chocolates are found locally at all three Westfield malls and International Plaza. Or you can buy See's online.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Retail growth plans halted by economy 12/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 5:08pm]
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