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Outlet mall would excite local economy and shoppers

Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri is marking the calendar for next week's start of the county's new bus route connecting west Pasco to Wesley Chapel. "Can't wait,'' Mulieri said last week about the ability to take mass transit for a shopping expedition to the Shops at Wiregrass mall.

Turns out Mulieri may get a new addition to her retailing itinerary.

As Times staff writer Lisa Buie reported, the Richard E. Jacobs Group and Sierra Properties — owners of the 540-acre Cypress Creek Town Center land — are expected to sell or jointly develop part of the retail complex as an outlet mall owned by Simon Property Group, which also owns Premium Outlet in Ellenton and Gulf View Square in Port Richey. The proposed mall is at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, just four traffic lights west of the Shops at Wiregrass.

A word of advice, though. Don't go printing new route maps for the bus system just yet. When it comes to outlet malls and Pasco County, waiting is mandatory.

The latest plan, revealed to the county administration three weeks ago, is the fourth time since the 1990s that various outlet mall developers considered the I-75 corridor in Pasco County. In other words, we've been hearing about this since Bill Clinton was in the White House, Sylvia Young was on the County Commission, and Wiregrass Ranch was exclusively agriculture, not a high school/mall/soon-to-be hospital and community college campus.

Twice, the focus for a mall site has been land near the State Road 52 and I-75 exit. Prime Retail of Baltimore targeted 43 acres there 16 years ago for a 60-store, 227,000-square-foot outlet mall. The county even obtained, then returned, a $500,000 state grant to help with the needed road improvements. Prime Retail abandoned the plans in early 1999, saying the area was not ready to support a major outlet mall. Translation: It couldn't land sufficient tenants to justify building in a relatively remote location.

Simon, which later acquired Prime Retail, considered the same vicinity for a mall to be known as Tampa Prime Outlets. The company originally envisioned a 2008 opening, but now is looking farther south to the SR 56 exit.

In the interim came a 1998 proposal from Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., for 1.4 million square feet of commercial development, anchored by an outlet mall, on land east of I-75 and south of SR 54. That plan, however, evaporated within three months after the company determined that the surrounding road network needed at least $25 million worth of improvements — including a dedicated exit from the interstate — to handle mall traffic.

The required transportation investment is what makes the Cypress Creek Town Center site attractive. The Richard E. Jacobs Group, developers of the mall stalled by environmental permit requirements, already financed the $27 million widening of State Roads 54 and 56 to ease traffic flow between U.S. 41 and the mall site. Plans now call for an outlet mall on 50 acres there. (By comparison, the failed Bayonet Point Outlet mall site that sat empty on U.S. 19 for a decade was 33 acres.)

The county sees the Cypress Creek project, when completed, as producing many as 3,800 full-time jobs and tax receipts to county government and the school district of more than $8 million a year. The outlet mall would be just a portion of the development.

Others see it as an extension of sprawl, pollution and congestion that will threaten wildlife. The environmental concerns are understandable given the location, the past discharges into Cypress Creek that brought a $300,000 fine during site preparation work, and the need to consider safeguards for the protected indigo snake.

But the genuine enthusiasm from Mulieri and others also is a rational reaction about what upscale retailing — despite its marketing as "outlet'' shopping — can bring the local economy.

My own credit card receipts can verify this. Sometimes the most expensive weekend trip of the year isn't a getaway at the beach or a two-night hotel stay predicated by the offspring's youth sports commitments. The real spending is the 51-mile dash to Manatee County and the magnet that is the outlet mall at Exit 224.

Outlet mall would excite local economy and shoppers 02/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 5:23pm]
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