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  1. Business

Mitchell 54 project to begin in west Pasco

MICHELE MILLER | TIMES Construction is slated to begin next month on the Mitchell 54 West project at the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Little Road. When approved in 2015, the project called for almost 1 million square feet of commercial and mixed uses, and 800 homes, apartments and townhouses on 333 acres.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco's western hub is about to get some new spokes, just not as quickly as envisioned.

Construction is scheduled to begin next month on the initial 30-acre phase of Mitchell 54 West, a 330-acre, mixed-use project of up to 800 homes and nearly 1 million square feet of commercial space. It will be on land currently owned by the Mitchell family at the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Little Road.

Pasco County, in its long-range market plan, designated that area as its western hub, essentially the edge of the Trinity-to-Wesley Chapel corridor along State Roads 54 and 56. The county encouraged walkable communities and accommodations for future mass transit in the location.

Mitchell 54 West, first announced four years ago, is planned to include an outdoor mall, movie theater, fitness center, offices and public gathering space within walking distance of the residential neighborhood. It's a design concept known as a town center or lifestyle center.

Development was slowed initially by the federal environmental permitting process. Financiers also became shy about building an outdoor mall all at once amid an evolving retail industry that has doomed some big box locations, said the project's land-use attorney Clarke Hobby.

The years-long process of obtaining a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit "is onerous, but, in a backhanded kind of way, they may have done us all a favor because the retail market has changed so much,'' said land owner Dewey Mitchell, president of Capstone Tropical Holdings, Inc.

Mitchell said he presumed years ago that his family's ranch and homestead would be the site of a brand-name big box department store when development finally arrived. Instead, the more likely initial anchor will be an organic grocer.

"I thought it had to have a Macy's to have that draw. But if it had gotten built three years ago we'd have a Macy's, but where would that Macy's be now? We'd have empty big boxes out there,'' he said.

Among the changes since the project was first announced:

• The initial developer, Kitson & Partners, is not involved, "but they are still very much interested in coming back in with perhaps with a little bit different residential concept,'' said Mitchell, "but we're talking to some other people as well.''

• VMR Development, a newly formed company that includes the principals of Blackwater Resources of Birmingham, Ala., will develop the commercial components. Blackwater previously developed the Mitchell Ranch shopping plaza on the southeast corner of the intersection.

• The first development will be on approximately 30 acres closest to the Little Road and SR 54 corner with the rest done in phases that have no firm timetable. ''We're fortunate we're able to wait if we have to,'' said Mitchell.

• The leasing agent, the Shopping Center Group, previously publicized the names of two dozen potential tenants in the first phase including an organic grocer, nine restaurants or food-service businesses, and retailers selling home decor, crafts, mattresses, vitamins, cell phones, eye glasses, pet supplies and beauty products.

• A plan to build a publicly subsidized Class A office building on speculation remains active, but the agreement with Pasco County has been extended to 2020. That building is part of the second phase that is projected to include the town center.

Bill Cronin, president/CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said the slowed office building construction should not be a concern.

"As long as we're still moving forward,'' he said. "The delay doesn't represent the lack of demand. There's still plenty of demand there.''

Mitchell concurred.

"I know there's a demand for that space today, but it would be a mistake to put a building out there without being part of a larger plan,'' he said.

Building the initial 30-acre phase also is intended to help stimulate retail activity on the western portion of the project. The town center, Mitchell said, will have "plenty of entertainment, plenty of recreation, plenty of workspace. In the long run, in my mind, it end up being a lot better off.''

The development is on the property his family used to cattle ranch and where his late parents, Jim and Dorothy Mitchell, raised their offspring. That family legacy is why Dewey Mitchell said he does not mind the delays.

"I'm willing to wait if we have to in order to make those things happen,'' he said. "We want something that will be very nice for the community and something my parents would be proud of.''

Reach C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: Mitchell project to add office space.

RELATED: Pasco seeks walkable communities.

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