WESLEY CHAPEL — After years of environmental litigation, officials with a major mall developer say they have a green light to start work on building a massive new outlet mall in Pasco County, with construction possibly starting this summer.
When complete, the Cypress Creek Town Center project would represent the first open-air outlet mall in the wider Tampa metro area, at State Road 56 and Interstate 75, and retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th have already signed up.
“We are excited to move the project forward,” said Coleen Conklin, a spokeswoman for the outlet mall division of Simon Property Group, one of three developers on the 510-acre project. Conklin cautioned that they are in very preliminary meetings with Pasco County officials on their plans; she declined to give a total budget or name potential retail stores. But she said that if all goes well, Simon could start construction this coming summer and potentially have a grand opening in the summer of 2015.
Conklin says they’ve recently received a permit to build from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had earlier issued a similar permit, only to have it tied up in litigation. Officials from both Simon and from the Richard E. Jacobs Group met with Pasco County Zoning Administrator Carol Clarke in late October to brief her on the project status.
Clarke said the developers told her they would be submitting a new site plan since the previous design called for a 1.3 million-square foot shopping center. “Now they’re moving to the outlet mall, so they’re going to have to do some revisions,” she said. The developers are going to try to use as much of the existing infrastructure as possible, Clarke said.
“It’s a huge hurdle to cross,” said Jim Kovacs, a managing director of the real estate services firm Colliers International. “This is what’s been holding up the project for many, many years. Now Simon, Jacobs and any other entities surrounding them can go forward and seek out permits for construction. And some of that has already started the process.”
Kovacs said a new outlet mall here would be very similar to others in the state, and do well. “It’s at a great crossroads with 56 and I-75, and there are many retailers who have not yet planted their flag in central or east Pasco County. There’s some good demand there.”
The Premium Outlet Center would be built on 50 acres. Luxury retailer Saks Inc. announced plans in 2012 to anchor the center with a Saks “Off 5th” outlet store. A typical Simon outlet center would be home to retailers such as Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Coach, J.Crew and Nike.
Under the deal in Pasco County, The Jacobs Group would retain 50 acres of outparcels that will be developed for retail and restaurant uses. Tampa-based Sierra Properties, the original developer, still owns the 40-acre parcel closest to the interstate, which is approved for up to two hotels, as well as 204 acres on the north side of S.R. 56. The northern parcel is approved for a mix of commercial, offices, hotels and hundreds of multi-family residential units.
Progress now would mark a new chapter in a project that’s been mired in legal problems for years.
Controversy over the site arose in 2004 when Pasco County approved the project. The Corps of Engineers issued a permit in 2007 for construction on the creek’s wetlands, but the agency yanked the permit two years later when torrential rains flooded the construction site and polluted nearby Cypress Creek with muddy water. The creek is a tributary to the Hillsborough River, the main source of drinking water for the city of Tampa.
The Sierra Club sued the Corps of Engineers, saying the permit should never have been approved in the first place. The project has been in limbo ever since.
Tampa Bay Sierra Club Chair Marcia Biggs said she hopes the lawsuit achieved the club’s goal, which wasn’t to kill the project but to reduce its footprint. “We’ve been down a long road,” she said. “We fought to protect this property from environmental harm. It was never to stop the mall — it was to protect Cypress Creek from stormwater runoff.”
Biggs said the Sierra Club would be vigilant about monitoring the development at the town center. “We have invested so much in this property,” she said. “We don’t intend to turn our backs on it now.”