Site plans for Pasco County's first outlet mall have been given the official go-ahead from government planners, with an expected opening just before the 2015 holiday shopping season.
Simon Property Group, the world's largest mall operator, has been negotiating with county planners since April to bring the 1.1 million-square-foot Tampa Premium Outlets to 100 acres at Interstate 75 and State Road 56. It will be similar to Ellenton Premium Outlets in Manatee County.
"They have agreed with all the conditions of approval," planner Dawn Sutton said. She said the company now has to get the parcel redivided to accommodate an outlet mall. That should not be difficult, she said.
"They were pretty easy to work with," Sutton said.
Plans for the outlet mall have been in the works since 2012, when Simon announced it had signed Saks Off Fifth as part of a seven-store deal.
Company officials have since been tight-lipped about what other stores might occupy the mall. Last month, Chick-fil-A announced plans to build a 4,586-square-foot double-drive-through restaurant at the entrance of the proposed outlet mall, on the south side of SR 56.
Simon representatives could not be reached Tuesday.
In eastern Pasco, outlet mall builders have jockeyed for position for more than 20 years, eager to tap into the growth along I-75 that has created a population of shoppers from Tampa to Ocala.
Simon once planned an outlet mall at the SR 52 interchange but let the deal lapse during the recession. The retail giant then opted for SR 56 after efforts to build a traditional outdoor mall failed amid environmental challenges.
The land around SR 56 and I-75 is owned by Simon, the Cleveland-based Jacobs Group and developer Bob Sierra.
Pasco leaders praised the news as a boon for a county that has been striving to shed its reputation as a bedroom community for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and lure high-paying jobs.
The county's big catch, financial giant T. Rowe Price, recently backed out of a deal to expand on State Road 54 in favor of renewing its lease in Hillsborough.
"Hopefully, this is a sign that Pasco County ... is a player in the retail sector and, hopefully, will be a player in the office sector," County Commissioner Ted Schrader said. "It's located in such an area that we will have shoppers from all parts of the state who will come and spend their money in Pasco County."
While the construction and retail jobs that a mall will bring aren't high-wage positions, they will help some people, Schrader said.
"All malls are a tourism draw," said John Hagen, president of the Pasco County Economic Development Council. "It's kind of a place-maker. It will create a sense of destination for the county that I think we could use more of."
The mall, paired with a proposed ice hockey rink just to the north, will also make the area a popular draw, Hagen said.
"The whole side of I-75 and SR 56 has been sitting there waiting for something to happen," he said. "I would argue that it's the most valuable corner in Pasco County. This will really start to get that corner popping."
Contact Lisa Buie at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604. Follow @Lisa_Buie.