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MARCH A BIG MONTH FOR MALLS

A key road gets underway the Shops at Wiregrass and various store openings are due at The Grove.

March looks set to be a big month for mall developments in central Pasco.

The long awaited eastward extension of State Road 56 is due to begin next month, according to a top executive of the developer backing the $130-million Shops at Wiregrass.

The Wiregrass mall at SR 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard depends on that extension to proceed.

Bids came back in the last two weeks for the 3-mile project, which will be completed in three phases over 17 months, said Jim Richardson, vice president of developer Forest City Enterprises, one of the mall's backers.

The extension would run as six lanes from Bruce B. Downs to Porter Boulevard, then four lanes to Mansfield Boulevard.

The Shops at Wiregrass is still set to open at the end of October, timed to coincide with the initial phase of the extension project, Richardson told the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday.

Once completed, the mall will overlook the largest intersection in the Tampa Bay area.

It would be a lifeline to Meadow Pointe residents, opening a second access point to Bruce B. Downs and the interstate. It would also relieve school traffic to and from John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High schools.

Three miles to the north, another mall is getting ready to unroll its second phase.

The Grove at Wesley Chapel opened last fall, just in time to catch the holiday shopping season.

Next month, five more stores are going to join the line-up.

The clothing store TJ Maxx is scheduled to open March 2, said Kristen Biance, a mall spokeswoman.

Michael's craft store has an opening planned for early March, while Ross Dress for Less, PetSmart and ULTA Salon & Cosmetics are due to open in late February and early March, Biance said.

The Grove's first phase opened with Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dick's Sporting Goods, Toys R Us and Babies R Us. A 16-screen Cobb Theatres multiplex is scheduled in May.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at cyap@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4613.

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