WESLEY CHAPEL — Construction on Cypress Creek Town Center, one of the largest proposed retail projects in the Tampa Bay area, is indefinitely on hold, putting at risk more than $150-million in financial commitments and thousands of promised jobs.
Beset by problems with an environmental permit, the Richard E. Jacobs Group, developer of the 1-million-square-foot project, and its prospective tenants agreed to halt construction at the site on Interstate 75 and State Road 56, mall spokeswoman Deanne Roberts said Wednesday.
The stoppage came in waves, from mid February through last week, when work stopped on an area earmarked for a Target store, Roberts said. The only work going on now is erosion control and soil stabilization, both permit requirements.
The mall, projected to generate 4,000 jobs and more than $9-million in yearly tax revenue, was scheduled to open in October, in time for the holiday season. "I don't know what the new date will be," Roberts said.
Long dogged by controversy over its environmental threat to Cypress Creek, a federally protected waterway, the mall cleared the final regulatory hurdles last May.
But environmentalists, led by the Sierra Club, sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in October, saying regulators should not have issued a permit letting the developer fill 54 acres of wetlands at the site. The suit is pending.
After multiple incidents of construction runoff leaking into the creek, a major source of Hillsborough County's drinking water, the corps suspended the permit in February, halting work on the 54 acres that the developer had cleared.
Mall officials said Wednesday that they did not want to risk having the 100-acre shopping center open this fall incomplete.
"The management of the Jacobs Group and the tenants decided to stop all construction on the site until the army corps reinstates the permit," Roberts said. "The developer is still committed to delivering the project."
So far, the mall has signed on 42 tenants including an AMC Theatres, Linens-N-Things, Books-A-Million, Target and Kohl's.
In a letter to the corps in February, Neal McAliley, the developer's attorney, warned that more than $150-million in investment may be at stake. "The referenced letter was intended to point out the serious consequences at stake that could potentially result from an extended delay," Bill Fullington, a Jacobs Group spokesman said Wednesday.
Environmentalists characterized the mall's latest problems as nature's revenge.
"One of the major functions of wetlands is flood control," said Dan Rametta, of Land O'Lakes. "There is no clearer proof of that than to see the flooded acres both north and south of S.R. 56 at that site."
The Jacobs Group and the corps remain at odds over the suspended permit.
Corps officials said they received the developer's preliminary plans to fix the runoff problem, but are waiting for the company's evaluation of the environmental damage caused by the runoff.
There also are some outstanding issues with the developer's latest stormwater management corrective plan, said Swiftmud.
"Some of the wetlands are still under turbid water," said Robyn Felix, Swiftmud's spokeswoman. "We can't evaluate those until the water is pumped out."
Meanwhile, two rival malls in central Pasco are forging ahead.
The Shops of Wiregrass, a $130-million project, broke ground last month and is set to be completed in October. Four miles north, the $175-million Grove at Wesley Chapel opened four months ago.