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by Paul Owers
Sun-Sentinel.com

FL – Retail developers across South Florida are scrambling to fill shopping centers as the deteriorating economy has merchants closing or cutting back on expansion plans.

Three large projects in Broward County have yet to announce anchor tenants. Centers also are going up in Palm Beach County, but developers concede that leasing is as difficult now as it has been in years.

The reduction in consumer spending, the credit crunch and the overbuilding of shopping centers following the housing boom of 2000 to 2005 are contributing to the current retail malaise, analysts say. For the next 18 to 36 months, slower occupancy and more concessions from landlords will be the norm.

“We’ll get out of it,” said Jonathan Kingsley, managing director for Grubb & Ellis Co. in Boca Raton and Miami. “It’s just going to take some time.”

Bruce Chong, co-owner of the IceBerry frozen yogurt shop that opened last week at CityPlace in West Palm Beach, said he originally wanted to open 12 stores in Florida next year. But he’s scaling back to just six.

“I’m concerned about the economy, just like everybody else,” he said. “We figured it was best to slow down a little.”

Sunrise-based GL Commercial is nearing completion of Canyon Town Center just west of the Boynton Beach turnpike interchange. The 200,000-square-foot development is about 60 percent leased.

The subsidiary of GL Homes struck deals with Publix, Wachovia, Walgreens and Bank of America last year before Wall Street’s financial problems peaked. But leasing the balance of the project is proving difficult.

“We’re slowly working deals, but tenants are on the sidelines, waiting to see what the economy is going to do before they make long-term commitments,” said Mike Friedman, president of GL Commercial.

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