TAMPA — With two of Tampa Bay's biggest malls, it's no surprise that the West Shore area is a good place for retailers.
How good? So good last year that sales were 35 percent higher than in any other part of Hillsborough County. So good that WestShore Plaza is 98 percent leased. So good that there's not a single square foot available in the strip center that houses the Container Store.
"If you find space and buy or rent retail, I'd highly recommend" taking it, advised Patrick Berman, senior director of retail brokerage services for Cushman & Wakefield.
Berman was among the speakers Tuesday at the Westshore Development Forum, an annual conference that spotlights trends and projects in an area that has long been a major economic engine for the entire Tampa Bay region. In addition to a world-renowned airport, two major malls, dozens of office buildings and more than 7,200 hotel rooms, West Shore also has a growing number of full-time residents who make it a true live-work-play area.
Though retail has always been important to West Shore's health, Berman said last year's opening of an upscale RH home furnishings store at International Plaza was a major coup.
"It really puts Tampa Bay on the retail map," he said. "(RH) was looking for an area with 100,000 people earning at least $100,000 a year within an hour's drive. It's a sign we've truly arrived as a retail destination."
West Shore is such a hot retail market that when Sports Authority filed for bankruptcy and said it would shutter 140 stores, the one across from WestShore Plaza was never considered for closing, Berman said.
"And," he added, "I was told that if it did close, there's a long list of retailers" eager to take the space.
Those could include retailers that have stores elsewhere but have yet to move into the Tampa Bay market. Potential candidates are Macy's Backstage, a new discount clothing chain, and Earth Fare, an organic food supermarket. And retailers already in the area, like Ashley Furniture, are opening new stores in West Shore even though rents last year were 10 percent higher than in other parts of Hillsborough.
"West Shore is the strongest and most desirable retail market in Tampa Bay," Berman said.
Among other observations at Tuesday's forum:
• West Shore's hotel market continues to be strong, with occupancy rates higher than the Tampa Bay average and a new Autograph Collection boutique hotel planned for the Rocky Point area. But Daniel Peek of HHF's Hospitality Practice Group cautioned that financing for new hotels is getting tighter nationwide. Last year, a developer could borrow 75 percent of the cost at 4 percent interest. This year, most lenders will finance just 60 to 65 percent at 5 to 5.5 percent interest.
• The average rent in West Shore is $1,653. That's second only to downtown St. Petersburg and requires an annual income of at least $58,508 to be considered affordable. But more than 50 percent of Hillsborough households earn that much, belying a common lament that "people can't afford the rents and that there aren't enough people to rent all the high-end apartments," Joseph Beaudoin of Cushman & Wakefield said.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.