Hiring has begun at a Chuck E. Cheese’s store now under construction at The Grove at Wesley Chapel, a shopping center opened at the height of the recent housing boom, which is now growing again.
How much the shopping center bordering Interstate 75 will expand, however, depends on the cooperation developers get from Pasco County officials.
“The challenge we have with all the major future development out of The Grove centers around the fact that the project lacks a traffic signal at the main entrance,” Jim Mazzarelli, managing director at Genesis Real Estate Advisers — the company working with The Grove developers — told members of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce last week. “As our engineers say, we don’t have an ingress problem, we have an egress problem. You can get in, but you can’t get out.”
The Grove has two entrances off County Road 54, using Oakley Boulevard less than 1,000 feet from the I-75 interchange, and Gateway Boulevard, located another 800 feet or so from there, where customers can find a traffic signal.
Getting to Gateway is not easy, however. Shoppers have to leave The Grove, turn onto Dayflower Boulevard, and then turn onto Gateway on the other side of an Econo Lodge. Anyone wanting to drive just straight out on Oakley either has to make a right turn, or journey across three lanes of traffic to make a U-turn at Gateway.
“It’s a really awkward work-around,” Mazzarelli said. “It might work for everyone who is there now, but it doesn’t work for the big anchors who are going to come in and invest millions in a store. That’s a hurdle we’ve been working to overcome for the better part of three-and-a-half years. We’re getting there, but it’s a long road.”
One 17-acre piece of land on the southern end of The Grove property, for example, is set up for a large box store, like a Lowe’s or Target, Mazzarelli said. The land has been vacant since The Grove opened in 2007, but developers are in negotiations with a large department store “with a well-known name.”
Such a deal, however, is contingent with adding a traffic light for the Oakley connection to County Road 54. The Grove developers already have spent more than $250,000 in studies and other work to get that light in, but it still hasn’t happened.
“We are not taking this lightly by any means,” Mazzarelli said. “It is a critical element to the center as it stands today, especially right now when it’s only half built-out.”
Although 54 is now a county road, there are still Florida Department of Transportation restrictions in place since it controls the traffic lights for vehicles looking to access I-75. Generally DOT wants 1,260 feet separating traffic lights, and by adding one on Oakley, that would put three traffic lights in a stretch of road totaling a little more than 2,000 feet.
“If you put in another stop light, that and the other two stop lights already there creates the possibility of traffic backing up into the off-ramps of the interstate,” county spokesman Douglas Tobin said. “We are reviewing that, but one solution might be if you put a stop light in there, we have an agreement that, in the future, if it backs up, we’d be able to remove it.”
Other hindrances to expansion are restrictions The Grove had to negotiate through when it signed leases with some of its big tenants, like Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Old Navy. That was what stopped the Pasco County Tax Collector’s office from opening a new location at the center, and also kept the Pepin Academy charter school from considering some space.
“We had an idea to create this nice little educational court that could’ve been sealed off” from the rest of the complex, Mazzarelli said. “We went to the anchors and did a great deal of negotiating with them, but we couldn’t get the anchors to sign off on it.”
However, those restrictions could change in the near future. Many of the anchor leases are up for renewal, and since some stores would like the chance to upgrade their facilities, that gives The Grove a little bargaining power at the negotiation table.
“In addition to giving the anchors some money so they can refurbish their stores, we are getting a lot of these restrictions relaxed,” Mazzarelli said. “That will have obviously long-term benefits for the center, because the fewer restrictions we have, the more flexibility we will have, and the most success we’ll have in this space.”
Published October 29, 2014
See this story in print: Click Here