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Commercial Real Estate
Business Observer Wednesday, Mar. 10, 2021 6 months ago

Pair of shopping centers seeks to fill empty grocery stores

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Landlords also look toward Amazon-proof stores.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

A pair of Southwest Florida shopping centers dating from the 1980s are getting significant overhauls — and new looks and tenants — to be better positioned for the needs of modern-day shoppers, while also battling the rise in e-commerce. A glance at the projects includes the following changes: 

Green Tree Center

At the intersection of Airport-Pulling Road and Immokalee Road in Naples, Green Tree Center occupies more than 20 acres of prime real estate. “This is one of the highest traffic counts in all of Collier County at this intersection,” says Jack Crifasi, the president of Crifasi Real Estate, which has handled leasing and management of the site for some 30 years.

‘With so much shopping being done on the internet, a straight retail center is not the most desirable center right now, and tenants are struggling if all you’re doing is completely retail.' Jack Crifasi, Green Tree Center

A multimillion-dollar renovation that should be finished sometime this spring has transformed the Mediterranean-style, traditional shopping center into more of a lifestyle center with a coastal-contemporary look. (Crifasi declines to disclose specific costs of the project.)

“We’ve recognized for quite some time we needed to update the property,” Crifasi says. “There are other properties being developed in the area, and we felt that for us to be competitive and for our tenants to be competitive, we needed to be more proactive in making the center a real first-class destination point.”

New touches include open-aired gables, outdoor cupolas, expanded tile walkways and new custom lighting, artwork and landscaping throughout the site. Fountains designed by Crystal Waterscapes accent the exteriors of three new restaurant spaces that are available, which range from 3,000 to 5,500 square feet under-air with large outdoor dining areas. Crifasi envisions concepts including a steakhouse, bistro and seafood restaurant occupying these new spots.

“We’re getting tenants from all over the country calling us,” he says. “We are filtering through a number of them now to determine what is the best fit for us.”

Courtesy. Green Tree Center is in a prime location in Naples.

Also available: the 51,000-square-foot former Sweetbay space. Crifasi has received interest in that space from companies in the grocery, retail, entertainment and service sectors. “We’re in discussions with various tenants to determine what is the best fit for our property and our existing tenants,” he says. “It may range from a tenant taking the entire space or two tenants splitting the space in some manner.”

Crifasi wants the overhaul to result in a center that offers people reasons to visit beyond just standard shopping options. Helping the cause? NCH’s Whitaker Wellness Center on-site is also undergoing its own renovation, which will create a modern fitness center with studios for yoga, Pilates and cycling and spa-like locker rooms.

“We didn’t want to be just a retail center anymore,” he says. “We really want to be a lifestyle center; we want to appeal to people who want to come to shop and who want to come for restaurants or for exercise or for entertainment. So we want to round out our tenant base to appeal to as many people as possible. With so much shopping being done on the internet, a straight retail center is not the most desirable center right now, and tenants are struggling if all you’re doing is completely retail.”

Riverdale Shopping Center

Courtesy. The Sembler Co. is replacing a long-vacant former Winn-Dixie site with a Publix at the Riverdale Shopping Center in Fort Myers.

St. Petersburg-based retail real estate firm The Sembler Co. could see the potential at Riverdale Shopping Center. So last year it acquired about 6 acres at the 75,581-square-foot retail center on Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers that included a long-vacant former Winn-Dixie site. Sembler, through GB Riverdale LLC, paid $2.75 million for the parcel in November, according to Lee County property records.   

That portion of the center has now been demolished and will be replaced with a 46,676-square-foot Publix, a 1,400-square-foot Publix Liquor Store and 2,400 square feet of new retail space. Sembler has a long history of working with Publix, and officials knew a new store at Riverdale would help the Lakeland-based grocery giant keep up with the growth along the Palm Beach Boulevard corridor.

“If you look at the traffic counts on Palm Beach Boulevard, traffic has increased by 25% in the last five years,” says Josh Beyer, a senior vice president at Sembler. He says nearby residential developments like Verandah, Portico and River Hall are expected to add some 5,000 homes to the area, homes whose residents will likely head to Riverdale Shopping Center for groceries and other necessities.

Sembler is currently talking with potential tenants for the new retail space. Beyer says it will most likely be occupied by service-oriented retail tenants. The new Publix and Liquor Store are expected to open in October, with the rest of the new retail space coming online by the end of the year.

Courtesy. Josh Beyer, senior vice president at The Sembler Co.

The Richden Cos., a Chicago-based real estate firm with an office in Naples and a handful of Southwest Florida properties, still owns the remaining portion of the center, under Riverdale Palm Beach LLC. It’s planning to make cosmetic upgrades to its spaces that include tenants like Dollar Tree. That store actually used to be a Family Dollar, but the parent company of both brands decided to invest in refreshing the space as a new Dollar Tree store. “They recognized what was coming and were excited about what the plan was for the shopping center,” Beyer says.

That plan also includes upgrades of the center’s common areas, such as new paving striping, traffic signage, landscaping and LED lighting. The former Winn-Dixie has been vacant for years, so the center’s new look and new life will be a major boon for the area.

“At the end of the day, we would hope that [the redevelopment] repositions this shopping center that has been kind of afloat without an anchor for a very long time,” says Beyer, who declines to disclose the total cost of the project. “We’re bringing the highest-class grocer to the shopping center and investing dollars to update the facilities here. We envision a center that the entire community can be proud of.”

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