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South County mall behind schedule, but don’t count it out!

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image Artist’s rendering of proposed mall.

Mall could break ground in 2012, open first stores in 2014.

By PENNY FLETCHER

RIVERVIEW — The rumors that plans for a huge mall on Big Bend Road are dead aren’t true.

The mall is just running behind schedule due to the lack of letters of intent from retailers, restaurants and hotels because of the slack in the economy.

Originally announced in 2007 as “a mall larger than Westfield in Brandon,” Southshore Commons is still moving towards its goal of a two-to-three phase project between Interstate 75 and the Covington Gardens development on the south side of Big Bend Road (across from East Bay High School). 

The 1.5-million square feet of retail, entertainment, offices and hotels on the 133-acre plot will contain a 10-to-14 screen multi plex movie theater, several restaurants, one or two hotels (it is zoned for two but may only have one), and a combination of mom-and-pop retail specialty shops and several big-box chain stores.

“We’re getting letters of intent and negotiating prices so we can’t disclose names yet,” said Jay Miller, senior vice president of operations for Equity, an-Ohio-based development company that has its southern regional office in Tampa.

“We’re zoned for five office buildings and two hotels, but depending on what the people who sign with us want, we could have only one or two office buildings and one hotel.  That’s why the rendering we have is not set in stone, but a concept,” Miller said. “The final plans will be user-driven.”

The mall is planned to out-size Westfield in Brandon by more than 350,000-square feet, and be approximately 1.15-million square feet, he said.

“Plans show it to be both an intimate town center and still have big-box stores,” he added.

The “town center destination concept” can be created with landscaping, proper placement of restaurants and coffee shops, and 3 or 4 man-made ponds, plus a 6-to-8 acre man-made lake.

Miller said he already has a letter of intent from the movie theater corporation and it is not the same one that operates in Westfield. “This will be the first one it has in the Tampa Bay area, although it has theaters across Florida,” he said.

Since the contract is not yet signed, Miller could not name the theater corporation.

“We want to wrap some of the stores and restaurants around the waterfronts,” he continued.

There is also the possibility of a church locating on the premises.

Eight letters of intent have already been signed for restaurant and retail but contracts aren’t completed.

“We are required to have certain amounts promised before we can obtain financing,” Miller explained. “We think we will reach that goal by the third quarter of 2012 so we can break ground by the end of 2012 and open the first phase by spring 2014.”

The project is said to cost about $200 million and will begin with improvements to the surrounding highways that have been mandated by the state Department of Transportation.

Miller says he hopes these will begin soon.

“DOT is requiring us to widen Big Bend Road from 4 to 6 lanes in the first phase of the project, and make additional turn lanes at the bottom of each of the exit ramps- both northbound and southbound- into the project. We will also be lengthening the off ramp that now backs up unsafely along I-75 when people line up to get off on the southbound side,” he said.

After the highway improvements, the first phase of buildings will contain 375,000-square feet of retail,” he said. “Residents and visitors will be amazed at the style of the project we’re creating here.

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