ICSC Florida: They’re coming and they’re building

On the first day of the Florida Deal-Making Show in Orlando this week, I sat down next to a general contractor at lunch and asked him how was business. “The biggest problem we have right now is finding enough competent sub-contractors to do all the work we have lined up,” he replied.

What’s going on in Florida is the reverse of the famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams. People are streaming into the Sunshine State in droves. The economy’s booming. Jobs are plentiful. The weather’s great, as usual. So new residents are coming, developers are building, and retailers are using the state as a platform for expansion. USA Today ranked Florida the fourth fastest-growing state with a population growth rate of 1.8% compared to a national average of 0.7%.

“There’s tons of opportunity for retailers in South Florida — in all large markets, really. There are 900 people moving to Florida every day,” said Sabrina Stimming, partner at CREC, a real estate company that manages and leases 13 million sq. ft. of space in in the state.

There are two things making Florida an expansion destination for retailers, said JLL senior VP Justin Greider — huge population growth and huge tourist growth. “Home décor is one of the fastest growing segments in retail here. We see an economy here that’s stronger that it was before the recession, and that’s benefitting retail companies,” he said.

One Florida leasing executive who asked not to be named ticked off some of the retail brands he said are flocking to Florida. “Companies like Ross, TJX, and Burlington are opening lots of stores. Value retail is big in Florida, and so is health and wellness. Blink Fitness is growing quickly here,” he said.

Still, Florida is not Boomtown for every retail company. “This is a market of haves and have-nots. There are a lot of big retailers closing,” allowed John Crossman, whose Crossman & Company manages more than 200 centers in the state.

Crossman says that Florida’s most impressive contributions to retail and real estate are the master-planned communities sprouting up in the state. “The Villages in Ocala and Babcock Ranch outside of Punta Gorda are amazing projects,” he said. “Babcock Ranch has trails, lakes, homes for $220,000, and they just opened a K-through-8 school. What’s great is that it’s a real community. The firemen and the teachers can all afford to live there.”