CBL, Benchmark Team Up to Develop Florida Shopping Center

Construction started this week on Hammock Landing, a 750,000-square-foot, regional shopping center just off Interstate I-95 in West Melbourne, Fla., that will have six major anchors along with smaller shops and restaurants.It’s the second Florida shopping center for joint venture partners CBL & Associates Properties Inc., a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based REIT, and The Benchmark Group, a private real estate development and management company headquartered in Amherst, N.Y. The two firms are also developing The Pavilion at Port Orange, in Port Orange, Fla., a 550,000-square-foot lifestyle shopping center, according to an Oct. 17, 2007, CPN story.Geoff Smith, vice president of development at CBL, declined to release development costs for either project today.  Both are expected to open in 2009.Hammock Landing is being built on roughly 78 acres of former pasture land. Smith said it is located at the intersection of I-95 and Palm Bay Road, the most heavily traveled intersection in Brevard County.”We have incredible exposure on I-95,” Smith told CPN today. He noted that many of the people who live in the region must drive north to get to work and will go right by the development. Smith added that it will be conducive to interstate travelers who want to find restaurants and shops that are easy to access from the highway. The nearest competitor is a mall nearly four miles off the interstate.”It gave us the opportunity to have a more convenient shopping opportunity for the majority of the trade area,” Smith said.Hammock Landing already has four anchors – Marshall’s, Linens ‘n Things, Michael’s and Petco. Smith said they have commitments from two other anchor tenants that will be announced soon.  He said they will have “an exciting lineup” of regional and national restaurant tenants, several of which have signed letters of interest. “There is a huge pent-up demand for restaurants in that market,” Smith said.The center is expected to serve the southern Brevard County communities of West Melbourne, Melbourne, Palm Bay and Malabar, a trade area population of more than 200,000 that is expected to increase to at least 225,000 by 2011, according to CBL.Smith said most of the components would be built in the first phase, which is slated for opening in spring 2009.  The six anchors will take up approximately 500,000 square feet with about 120,000 square feet for smaller shops and restaurants and 50,000 square feet for peripheral properties.He said construction is also under way at The Pavilion at Port Orange, where several new tenants have recently been announced.  Joining Belk department store and a 14-screen Hollywood Theater at the center will be Barnes & Noble, Circuit City, Michaels and a Homegoods/Marshall’s Megastore.”It’s leasing extremely well,” Smith said.Asked whether there were any concerns about retail being adversely affected by the shaky economy, Smith told CPN, “I think if you have a strong location, we’ll be fine.”Smith said the credit crunch has been helping rather than hurting CBL. “If anything, the economy is driving the weaker developers out of our picture, bringing us potential projects that retailers have counted on other developers to produce,” he said, adding that some developers can’t come up with the additional capital requirements banks are now seeking.CBL is the leading shopping center owner and developer in the Southeast and one of the largest in the United States. It owns, holds interests in or manages 159 properties, including 84 regional malls and open-air centers in 27 states, most in the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest and Southwest.Smith said the company, which currently owns one West Coast center in El Centro, Calif., is looking to expand beyond its traditional stronghold. “We are actively pursuing projects across the U.S. We are not limiting ourselves to our historical fortress markets,” he said. “We are interested in any good opportunity.” Smith said the current economic conditions didn’t spur the decision to move westward.”It was a strategic decision prior to that, but I think that just fueled it,” he said. Meanwhile, Benchmark has a portfolio worth about $1 billion that includes 9,000 apartment units in 12 states and nearly 5 million square feet of retail in six states, including New York, Florida and Ohio.